I tweeted earlier that this was a day that @winbassett (Win, former roommate and one of my closest friends) would be proud of. By that I mean it was just about the perfect day, even with jet lag. I got up early — thanks to my PDT calibration, read, wrote, and beat the US to a productive day. I went to work and learned about beer, read about beer, thought about beer, then thought about science. I came home and went for a run, during which I got lost and ran 50% farther than I meant to, in the totally wrong direction. My route was supposed to take me to the city center, then south toward KU Leuven, the old university which is supposed to be amazingly beautiful. Instead, I ended up east, though city center nearly getting on the freeway (or whatever they call “roads you don’t want to run along” here). I did end up almost hitting 4.5 miles, which was pretty good for a first day in town. Check it out:
I did learn a few things. First, biking is extremely popular here, running is less so. I saw two other runners on my run, and they were probably being chased because they looked like they were in street clothes. My (quasi) short running shorts stood out a bit. I am pretty sure I heard some chuckles as I went by. Whatever, I am learning about their culture and they are learning about mine.
When I got back to the hotel, I got showered and changed, and went out for dinner. It was almost 8:15 at this point, and the person at the front desk assured me kitchens stay open until 10 around here. I wasn’t sure whether to expect the French/Italian/Spanish schedule of late night leisurely dinners or the British schedule of an earlier dinner followed by a heavy drinking sprint until the pubs buttoned up at 11. Luckily, it is roughly the former. The first place I sat down apparently didn’t really serve food, so I just had a nice beer: Geuze Lindemans (which only cost 3€, about $4 — in the US it would cost at least $8 if you could find it). For those who don’t know, Geuze is a sour beer. If you don’t know what you are getting, it is a surprise. The waitress didn’t ask me if I knew what I was ordering, but she did ask me to confirm that was what I wanted. I might not be up to speed on many things here, but I have been pleasantly surprised about my beer knowledge. Credit to Win for that one, too.
After my beer, I embarked on the quest for food. I found the street of restaurants — literally an alleyway that is more tables than walking space with nothing but restaurants on either side. The prices seemed a bit high — particularly building in the 30-50% conversion penalty. Tomorrow, I need to get the lowdown from locals about where to find reasonably priced eats. I see a grocery run in my future. Regardless, I walked down the same street three times in the same direction, so I finally circled back, gave up on my hope of finding traditional Belgian food (I still don’t know what that is, waffles covered in chocolate with a relatively sweet beer on the side?), and settled in at an italian place and ordered a pizza. When in Rome…, so I ordered the only Belgian beer they had on tap: Stella Artois. I saw the brewery that made it from the street, so I figured I would give it a try. Wowzers. Usually Stella is not one of my favorites. This beer, though, it totally different from Stella in the US. It is smoother, creamier, with more subtle character. Though my experience is limited to Guiness and Stella, I will suggest that some of these beers must be experienced near their birthplace, because they simply do not travel that well.
One downside to this place: smoking is still allowed at outside tables. I don’t love that.