Tuesday, May 18, 2010

After our first Belgian-style continental breakfast at our hotel – again a brilliant sunny morning – we ventured back into the center of Brugge.  What a gorgeous city - it’s got everything an enlightened tourist would want in a sophisticated yet comfortable European city - including Cuban cigars!  We found a great cigar store with a stylish gentleman and snagged (2) Montecristo #2′s and (2) Partagas’ for the evening – more on those later.

Then, we hit the road to Iepers or Ypres – whichever spelling you prefer.  As usual, we set the GPS for the “city center”, almost always the best option for lodging, restaurants, tourist attractions, etc.  We parked in the main square and found our hotel as recommended by our beer book: The Old Tom Hotel.

Ypres was a town at the very center of major action in World War I and was utterly destroyed, later rebuilt to look the same as before the war. It was our hub for the next few days of World War I history and Flemish beer.

After securing our nice room overlooking the main square, we headed directly to the Saint Sixtus Monestery in Westvleteran. This is one of the seven Trappist Monesteries still brewing beer in the Trappist tradition, but the only one that doesn’t export. If you want to drink their beer, you go visit them! The drive alone through hop fields along narrow roads is nearly worth it. You can’t actually visit the Monestery, but across the street is their own cafe when you can sit outside and enjoy all of their beer along with light snacks. We got their somewhat early and had our pick of tables outside, but as we sat and enjoyed all three of their beer styles the “beer garden” filled to overflowing. This is a popular place, and people visit from all over the world. The beer is very good!

We also visited De Struise Brouwers brewery in nearby Oostvletern. These guys make some of the richest, darkest, strongest stouts around, brewed in the lambic style of open fermentation. We chatted with one of the head brewers, Carlo, for an hour as he served us several of their beers to sample, each with its own interesting origin story.

That evening we enjoyed a nice dinner outside at The Old Tom and headed to the Menin Gate for the Last Post Ceremony, which has been happening daily since 1927. Truly something to behold, as many people gather to remember the 55,000 missing British soldiers from World War I.

Afterwards, we decided to torch our Montecristo #2s at our hotel’s outdoor cafe.  It was Paul’s first M2, and he was already sick of me saying how this was absolutely my favorite cigar in the whole world.  So, Murphy’s Law ensured that his experience would be the polar opposite.  His M2 unraveled, canoed, extinguished multiple times before he gave up halfway through his miserable experience.  The only way it could have been worse was for it to have burned his lip.  I’m not sure what the problem was with his M2, mine was perfect.  Actually, I know exactly what the problem was:  Cuban cigar quality is not what it used to be and it’s inconsistent from cigar to cigar, even within the same box of a great label.  Too bad we weren’t still in Brugge, because we would have gone back to the store, and I’m sure the gentleman would have happily obliged Paul with a new cigar of his choosing – well, except for a Cohiba Siglo 6, maybe.

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