The Adventures of BJ and Tony Morris

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Antwerp, Belgium
April 2012
"Lovin' Leuven"

BJ scheduled herself to attend a five day embroidery conference near our house. Her sister was attending also, and staying at our house, so I HAD to get out of town. I overdose on embroidery talk pretty quickly.

My friend David had some hotel “points” burning a hole in his pocket and wanted to travel as well so we started laying out plans. Based on flight availability, hotel availability and “stuff to do” we decided to fly to Brussels and train to Antwerp (I wanted to revisit my favorite wine bar in the whole world, Wijnbar Vigneto. Then we would work in a Beer Festival in nearby Leuven, Belgium that David had heard about. To accommodate both, we’d stay two nights in Antwerp (at the Hilton), then take a morning train to Leuven for the day to visit the Festival. Afterwards we would train to Dusseldorf, Germany where we’d spend the night (at the Hilton) and Sunday morning fly home, since the flights looked better from DUS than from BRU.

We individually made our way to the Atlanta airport, then met up in the Sky Club (“Crown Room” for those of you who haven’t kept up with the ever changing Delta branding schemes). After a short wait we made our way down to the gate, boarded the plane in our lie-flat business class seats and settled down for “dinner and a movie”… almost like date night… NTTAWWT

It sort of escaped my memory that I had already flown a TransOceanic flight in April so I was a bit surprised to see the same menu and movie choices as my last trip; it’s tough being nonrevs sometimes but we try to be up to the task. After a restful sleep for me (somewhat less so for David) we awoke to our landing in Brussels, cleared Immigration and Customs, then headed downstairs for the train to Antwerp. After a short train ride, and a one mile walk to the hotel in overcast skies, 

we checked in at the Antwerp Hilton

Since David, like BJ, is a Hilton Diamond-level member, we were upgraded to an Executive room, which got us access to the Executive Lounge. David wanted to take a quick nap, since he DIDN’T sleep as well on the plane as I did, so I grabbed my new Kindle Fire (I LOVE IT!) and headed down to the Lounge so I could catch up on my reading (Atlas Shrugged – I waited until I was 59 years old before learning what a depressing visionary Ayn Rand was.) while David was catching up on his sleep. 

Once he was fully rested, around 1:30pm, David and I struck off for the river. Much of Antwerp (like much of MANY European cities recently) seems to be undergoing renovation.

At the river, we strolled northward to the (familiar to BJ and I) NordTerrasse for a glass of Belgian beer; the first of, quite a few. We (okay, I) wanted to be at the Wijnbar Vigneto around opening time (4pm) so we decided we would save the Museem aan de Stroom for tomorrow. As we walked back towards old town, it started raining. Deciding now was a good time to eat, we ducked into a sandwich shop called The Croissanty; sort of like a Subway (although they have Subways too!) but with good bread and fillings for the sandwiches.

By the time the rain stopped, we had finished our late lunch, so we headed out for the Wijnbar. Without realizing it, we had circled back to within 50 yards of WijnegaardStraat 5. I was disappointed to see a "Closed" sign on the door, but saw movement inside. As soon as 'Lizabeth and Gino saw us, they threw the door open and welcomed us in, like long lost family. It was wonderful to be back "home". David and I sat down and ordered a glass of wine while the owners continued their preparations for Thursday evening. About an hour later, a delivery van stopped in front of the restaurant and we help Gino unload them. The owners were very excited because there were cases of new wines for their menu. Of course, they insisted on opening a bottle of each, and MADE us drink a glass of everything they opened. (They were tasting them along with us, so I didn't feel too bad about it). As the evening wore on, we toasted, tasted, tried some tapas (the Iberico ham is incredible) and chatted about the business. Gino brought out a tiramisu that he had made himself, in the new kitchen of the Vigneto. It was delightful. After a few more wines, I looked up to see 'Lizabeth behind the counter, using a miniature butane torch on something; creme brulee, of course. It too was incredible. They are adding these to the tapas menu.

Finally, around 11pm, Gino and 'Lizabeth broke out the Limoncello... a great way to end the evening. After a sip (or two) David and I bid our goodnights, promised that we would return tomorrow to meet the owners' new friends; Americans from New Mexico, made our way back to the Hilton and turned in.

After a later evening on Thursday, we both slept in until around 9:30am on Friday. We wandered down to the Executive Lounge for a late breakfast then headed out for the day. Our first activity was a walk back to train station to check out our options for Saturday's trip to Leuven. Then we headed southwest out of the station towards the Antwerp equivalent of Central Park, 

where there was some art beyond my understanding.

Continuing our somewhat aimless stroll, we headed north towards the Museum that BJ and I visited earlier. The view from the top deck gives you a nice look at the riverfront and parts of Old Towne; as well as helps you spot a convenient cafe. We felt compelled to try out the T' Keravikske with nice, heated, outdoor seating. (It's a nice enough day but sitting under a heater makes it nicer enough).

After a bit of refreshment, David and I headed for... the Wijnbar, but on the way we stumbled across a church that BJ and I had missed on our previous visit, St.-PaulusKerk. Sadly, it was closing when we found it.

We had decided that we'd go back to Vigneto tonight, but we wouldn't open it up, or close it down, like we did last night. Tonight, we'd take it easy. Right now seemed like a good time, so we headed on over. We enjoyed several more wines tonight, and great company with 'Lizabeth and Gino, and their new American friends Kevin and Lisa Nicholson. Determined to make it an early night, we cut things off around 8pm tonight, and headed back to the hotel, just in time for ONE more glass of wine before the Executive Lounge quit serving. Then time to turn in.

Saturday morning, we slept in then headed to the lounge for a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. After packing up our bags and checking out, we took the 20 minute walk back to Antwerp Centraal Station and purchased our tickets to Dusseldorf, with a stop in Leuven (A bit pricy - total about €145 for two). The ride to Leuven was easy; our only worry was what we'd do with our bags while we were at the festival. Less than 30 seconds after getting off of the train in Leuven, we discovered the baggage lockers, offloaded our luggage and headed off to find transportation to the festival. Fifty meters from the train station was the local bus station, and 30 seconds after THAT, we were on the free shuttle to Zythos Beer Festival. This was working out nicely! I am no expert on beer, and I have not (yet) been to Oktoberfest in Germany but... The ZBF in Leuven is the anti-Oktoberfest. And I think I like that. My impression of Oktoberfest (based on stories from friends) is that at O'Fest, you get a huge glass of one type of beer, that you drink while sitting with friends and strangers. At ZBF, you buy a small glass (€3. You can keep it, or turn it in afterwards and get your €3 back.) and a bunch of "Tokens" (€1.4 each), pick up a "directory" and then go "shopping". There were 100 booths set up in a huge indoor convention hall.

The booths were occupied by about 100 different Belgian beer vendors, and each vendor had between 3 and 6 different types of beer. You pick a beer vendor, point at a beer, give them your glass (and one token) and they either clean your glass or give you a clean glass with somewhere between 15 and 25 centiliters of beer. Five tokens (€7) gets you about a liter of beer, but it's 5 different beers. Ten tokens gets you hammered. Drink, rinse, repeat. I used to think that I didn't really like the fruity Belgian beers, having never had one I cared for... until this trip. David and I shared a table with several locals who were trying multiple beers and taking copious notes. At one point, one of our tablemates brought a glass to the table that looked almost like sparking red wine. I asked what it was and learned of a beer called Kasteel Rouge.

It is incredibly good; a dark beer infused with cherry. I have had Kriek before, and didn't care for it, but Kasteel Rouge is my current favorite beer. Just outside the convention hall were food vendors so David and I stopped for a snack (brats and frittes) and then continued our tastings. Once we reached our limit (based on the fact that we still had several hours on a train ahead of us) we shuttled back to Leuven and found a table at an outdoor cafe to kill an hour (and a few more brain cells) before our trip into Germany.

As we were relaxing, the local equivalent of "Carnivale" was taking place so we sat and watched the parade go by. Around 4:30pm, we wandered back to the station, reclaimed our bags and boarded our one-connection train to Dusseldorf, arriving around 7pm. I have been to D'dorf enough to be able to make my way around via the Metro and the tram but... we were tired so we took a cab to the Hilton. We checked in, hit the Executive Lounge for a quick glass of wine, then off to bed.

Sunday morning we were up early, around 6:30, packed and ready to go (to breakfast) by 7:00. I guess I'm getting old (!!!) Even though I knew exactly which bus to take to get to the airport, and exaclty where to walk from the hotel, to catch that bus... but again, we took a cab. Sometime between Wednesday when we left, and this morning, our "sure thing" flight from Dusseldorf back to Atlanta had gotten somewhat ugly but what can ya' do? We made our way to the gate and grabbed a chair while we hoped for the best. Sure enough, the best came our way. I got the next-to-the-last seat on the plane, and David got the last... both of us in Business Class. This was perfect, since I KNEW we'd get home in time to visit the Smyrna Jonquil Festival's last day! Another great trip now stamped in my passport!

Another great trip!