I like the ZBF enough that, despite the physical trouble of getting there, I'm prepared to put the effort in. And, believe me, it was quite an effort. Leuven is only about 160 km form Amsterdam, yet it takes almost 4 hours, changing 2 or 3 times, to get there by train. The Fyra, a jerry-built Italian train, that's supposed to provide a high-speed connection between Amsterdam and Brussels has been withdrawn from service for an indeterminate period while they attempt to get it to work properly. The slower, intercity service it replaced no longer runs. Which means, apart from the expensive, reservation-only Thalys, there's no direct train connection between Amsterdam and Belgium.
Getting to Leuven wasn't the end of the horror. Brabanthallen, where the festival is held, is on the outskirts of town. There's a free shuttle bus, but when we arrived there was a huge scrum waiting at the its stop. After watching the crowd swell for 15 or 20 minutes, a bus eventually arrived, onto which we were swept by the throng behind us. Quite scary, but not as bad as the ride itself. 82 standing and 44 seated passengers the bus said it could cope with. There were a lot more than that onboard, judging by the way it struggled up every incline. It barely made it to the top of one hill. But it was the cornering that got to me. Every time the bus made a sharp left turn, it leant worryingly far to the right. Unfortunately it was almost all left turns on the final approach.
Inside the festival we found seats, which is always a plus. Next to the bloke with a beard who's always in Wildeman on a Saturday afternoon. Time to survey the land and decide what to drink next. (I'd picked up a Houblon Chouffe on the way to finding a seat.) That's when I noticed where we were sitting: right next to the St. Bernardus stand. There were my next three beers sorted out: St. Bernardus Christmas Beer, St. Bernardus Abt 2009 and draught St. Bernardus Abt. I'm so adventurous.
As three and a bit hours were all the time we'd get, I only bought 12 tokens. Just eight to go. Last year I'd enjoyed Tilquin's Lambiek a lot and luckily their stand wasn't far from my seat this year. I moseyed on over and was delighted to see they'd handpulled Lambiek. All lovely and flat, just the way I like my beer. It seemed silly to just have the one, especially as I had to wait 5 minutes to get served while the barman chatted with his mate. Some of us are thirsty out here, you know. The second and third went down well. It seemed a shame to stop there, so I had another three.
Just two tokens left. Beer Nut slowed down my pace when I bumped into him beer-less and hung around a bit for a chat. By the time I got back to Mike and our seats, there wasn't a great deal of time left. Having picked up some ondescript brown beer on the last leg of my walkabout, I had a single token left. What to spend it on? Obvious, really: St. Bernardus Abt 2009.
I managed to lose Mike in Mechelen station while he was fetching a shoarma. While between trains in Antwerp, I slipped into Spar and picked up some impulse schnapps and two cans of Gordon's Platinum. Just to make the journey pass a little more quickly. The Gordon's was cannily full of beer flavour. And high in alcohol, which is what I look for most in a train beer.
I hope the train service is sorted out by next year. I'm too old for these day-long journeys. 10 hours travelling for just 3 hours boozing. It should be the other way around.