Sometimes it's nice to let someone else do the planning. This wasn't intended as a beer trip. There was nothing in particular I wanted to do, once I realised visiting Westvleteren wasn't really practical. I let Dolores choose the day's activities
A charming young girl had handed me a folder listing attractions along the Kusttram route on our journey to Oostduinkerke. It gave Dolores plenty of options. After much deliberation, she opted for Abdijmuseum Ten Duinen in the morning and an art-deco holiday villa in the afternoon.
As we headed off Lexie asked me "What's Ten Duinen? "A museum of monks and monking." "What's a monk?" "A sort of male nun." "What's a nun?" "A female monk." We're constantly having this type of high-level intellectual discussion. Eventually, I just told him monks are the ruddy-cheeked blokes in funny clothes and on dad's beer bottles.
There was nowhere to buy tickets at the closest tram stop. We had to walk to the next. It was up another bloody mountain. The morning weather forecast has promised it would be 21º C on the Belgian coast. That had already been demonstrated to be pure fantasy by breakfast. It felt more like 41º climbing that hill. That's warm enough for Einmaischen.
I've taught the kids many things. One of the most useful is what to do on sighting a pub. Shout "Pub, pub!". Lexie had plenty of chance to practice this skill on the tram ride to Koksijde. A couple looked quite interesting. Particularly the one with a big "Streekbieren" sign. I'd have jumped right off, had I been alone.
(One of the other things I've taught the kids is that, in Britain, it's unlucky to walk past a pub that's open without stopping for a pint. Though I think they're beginning to suspect this might not be totally true. Never mind. It worked for a couple of years.)
-I'm surprised Lexie missed the gun shop. It was right next to the tram line. He's asked me plenty of times to buy him a gun when I've been going to Belgium. Somehow he's found out gun controls are much looser than in Holland. I shouldn't really have mentioned the gun shop. Not if I'd wanted any peace for the next few hours.
"Can I have a gun dad?" "Yes." "Can I have an achy fortyseven? "You can have two, in case one breaks." "can I have ammo, too, dad?" "Yes." "Can we get off the tram and go back?" "No, we're going to the museum."
Half an hour later, we were wandering around aimlessly looking for the museum of monks and monking. "How much does an achy fortyseven cost, dad?" "Shut up about stupid guns, Lexie." That was Andrew. After thirty minutes of crazy gun talk he just snapped. The heat and the fact we were lost didn't help.
Ten Duinen wasn't really that hard to find. Or at least wouldn't have been if there were any signposts. Relief was great in our party when it came into view. Approaching it, the entrance seemed suspiciously dark and empty. It was almost midday. It was dark and empty inside for a reason. On Saturday, it doesn't open until 14:00.
Pint of vinegar, please
What now? Perhaps we could take a look at that windmill we'd seen turning at the end of the street. As we neared, we could see someone tethering the sails. The windmill was open Saturday mornings. But closed at twelve.
Time for plan-b. (Unfortunately not the Copenhagen plan-b.) There was that big wet thing the other side of the dunes. What's called? The sea, that's it. We embarked on another, as the kids so sweetly put it, "death march". I shouldn't let them watch the History Channel so much.
Sitting in the sun while my shoes fill with sand isn't really my thing. Sitting on a shady terrace while by belly fills with beer is. The others headed for the beach, me and Andrew for the pub. "Don't let your dad drink more than one beer, Andrew." Dolores said. As we walked along the promenade to the nearest boozer I asked Andrew "How much not to tell your mum about the jenevers? What about a euro for each one?" "Daaad."
None of the Belgian coast is that posh. The pub was proletarianly-inclined. We sat next to an enormous Wallon couple with a tiny baby. Both seemed to have slight speech defects. Just my sort of place. At least I won't look weird. None of the staff, except the barman who appeared the owner, was older than fifteen. Even the cook, who was wearing a distractingly short skirt, little wider than a belt.
A pretty Asian waitress kept walking right past us. Maybe I shouldn't have stared at her quite so hard. Eventually I caught the eye of her colleague, a spotty youth. "Een grote Rodenbach, als U blijft." Andrew was happy with a bag of crisps. As soon as the youth had disappeared inside, pretty Asian girl came to take our order. Typical.
The Rodenbach really was a ig one. The pub had it on tap and offered half litres. (Again, the beer selection was a pleasant surprise. See photo.) Well, I was only having the one, wasn't I? "Try this Andrew." "Ugh. It smells like vinegar." "Taste it." "Uuugh. It tastes like vinegar, too." "I thought you liked vinegar." "On my chips, dad, not to drink."
I did just drink the one beer. I'm a man of my word. Mostly. Back on the beach, Lexie told me he'd found a dead crab. "We can crack it open with a stone and eat it for tea." he took me and Andrew to look at it.
Only a couple of centimetres across, it wouldn't have made much of a meal. When I'd convinced him we'd need something more substantial to feed all four of us, Lexie took just a claw back to show his mum. "Look", he said "I've found a crab. Smell it" He'd already suggested I do the same. But I had a good idea what it was likely to smell like and declined the offer. "Peeeuuw. It smells like a dead rat!" Yep, exactly what I'd expected.
St Bernardus - what a guy!
Time for another death march. It was boiling hot and the humidity was around 150%. A sea breeze had kept the seafront bearable. Away from its cooling embrace, my radiator soon began to boil. Was it really only 400 metres? Even the museum's air-conidtioning wasn't helping much. I went to the toilet and stuck my head under the cold tap for a while. That was better.
Ten Duinen is a very modern museum. It's adjacent to the site of a huge monastery that was abandoned in the late 1500's. Being modern, it's heavy on multimedia experiences and light on glass cases stuffed with old things. But there was alos a lot of background on the history of the Cistercians and monks in general. In particular, those in the immediate area.
In case you're Belgian geography isn't that great, Koksijde is in the top left hand corner. Watou isn't far (hence some of the beers on sale in the pubs). You know something. It had never crossed my mind that St Bernardus was a actaul person. Thick, aren't I? The museum has a a painting of him. Even better, it has a section on the St Sixtus Abbey. Westvleteren to you and me. Including a little film. It shows all aspects of life in the monastery, including brewing. I never realised how modern the brewery is, all stainless steel shiny things.
You can wander around what's left of the Duinen monastery. It's just a few stubs of wall, most not more than two foot high. But it does give you an idea of the size of the place. The cafeteria overlooks the ruins. After being outside for 20 minutes, the kids were ready for an ice cream. So we headed to it. I hoped it sold beer.
What was I thinking? This is Belgium. Of course it sold beer. And not just any beer, but their own St Idesbald* abbey beers, Blond, Bruin and Tripel. There's another reason why Belgium is so civilised. OK, they almost certainly aren't original beers. The label says they're brewed by Huyghe. But it wasn't just some Inbev crap on sale. I had the Tripel. Not bad. But I was as sweaty as docker's armpit. Anything would have tasted good.
When we left the museum it was 16:30. Lexie insisted in putting his socks back on (he'd removed them for paddling). We got back to the tram stop just in time to see a tram pulling away. How long do the the supermarkets stay open on Saturday? Dolores wanted to stock up on wine for an evening in the hotel garden. "If we're too late for the supermarket, it'll be your fault, Lexie.", I said encouragingly "then there'll be no presents for you this christmas." I'm such a good dad.
We needn't have worried. Even on Saturday, the Delhaize in Oostduinkerke is open until late. Thankfully, Lexie had stopped talking incessantly about achy fortysevens. As soon as we entered the supermarket, he said "I want vodka! Where's the vodka?" I headed for the beer shelves. "Is this vodka?" "No, it's beer." "Where's the vodka?" Despite being much greater in size, Delhaize's beer selection was inferior to Spar's in one very important way. No St. Bernardus. I made do with Maredsous Bruin and Rochefort 8.
"I want vodka!" Reluctantly, I guided Lexie to the spirits section. I wasn't going to buy him any. I'm not totally irresponsible. No vodka until he's eleven. Really, I wanted to run my eyes over the jenever selection. There was a Hasselt "Vieux Système" with an amusingly archaic label. No idea if the contents were any good. And there was a familiar kruk. Filliers 5 Jaar. Now that is a good one. But I'm just window shopping.
I discover Andrew at the cheese counter. His face has the same expression as mine does when I'm drooling over beer. "Mmmm, cheese." He says. Cheese wasn't on our shopping list. Andrew was impressed by the diversity of Belgian cheese. Inspired perhaps by our museum visit or, more likely, by my beer purchases, he got some Maredsous. "Snap", I said. "Andrew's got some cheese, can I have some vodka." "No, Alexei." "An achy fortyseven?" "No!"
I had to have a lie down after another death march up the hill between tram stop and hotel. I was so hot. Good news was that our room had a fridge. Against my usual principles, I would have put my beet in it. If it had been more than half a degree cooler than the room. Instead I immersed a few bottles in cold water in the sink. Dolores had done the same with her wine. Lucky the bathroom had three sinks.
While the others sipped wine in the garden I lay on my bed. Knackered. With just a bottle of Maredsous and a French quiz programme on the telly for company. "Which French cheese doesn't bear the name of a commune?" I love the French. There was a choice of four. Ramounet, I guessed. Pity Andrew wasn't there.
Lexie had forgotten about vodka and achy fortysevens. "Can I have money for the pool table, dad?" I gave him a five euro note. A minute later Lexie, Andrew and Robert (Kirsten and Klaus's boy) were back. "The table's broken. Half the balls won't come out." That was a bummer. I'd been hoping to drink my wine in peace. Fat chance.
"Dad, can I have money for pool?" "It's broken." "We could try putting another euro in." "It's broken." "Dad, we can try. Maybe the balls will come out if we put another euro in" "It's broken" . . . .
Two hours elapse.
. . . "Dad, can I have money for pool?" "The table's broken" "Can't we try putting another euro in?" "Lexie, shut up about pool already" Andrew had finally cracked again. "Vodka! I want vodka!"
*St Idesbald used to be buried in the Duinen monastery. Part of Koksijde now bears his name.
** Note that no crap beers were consumed this day.
Abdijmuseum ten Duinen 1138
Koninklijke Prinslaan 6-8
Telefoon: + 32 (0)58 53 39 50
Fax: + 32 (0)58 51 00 61
Taverne de Strandcabine
8670 St Idesbald.
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