On my arrival in Flanders, I was welcomed with great hospitality and beer. I don’t know which was better.
Flanders is the Dutch speaking northern part of Belgium, a tiny region filled with loads of history and kind people. I was lucky to be hosted near Gent by the aunt and uncle of a good friend. Peter and Ann showed me more kind hospitality than I knew what to do with, helping me explore the region on bike and by train, and feeding me well.
Peter and Ann live in the Flemish countryside, where the flowing fields of corn and wheat quietly remind me of my home in Indiana. The land here, however, doesn’t bear the same signs of big agriculture that I see back home. Farms, even when big, are split up into smaller plots, with farmers owning many parcels in different locations. Homes that have been around for generations rest on their land, making it difficult to consolidate. Small walking paths that crisscross the fields provide arteries of public access through the farmland.
I take a few long bike rides through the countryside, using the region’s brilliantly laid out biking map. I follow back country roads, avoiding the big highways. On these little roads I can pass an entire afternoon without seeing anyone but the occasional tractor and other cyclists. I pass tree nurseries, full of young lindens and ash and maples, destined for cities all over Europe. Some of these trees stay in the region too, relining the country roads that were a long time ago made bare. The countryside, here in Flanders, is tranquil.
In the evening, to my great joy, Peter and Ann would usually crack open a beer. I couldn’t have been more content; I think Belgium makes some of the best beers in the world. And I was eager to drink these beers in the proper way, Belgian style.
Belgian beer afficiandos need to have a lot of space for glassware, because each beer has its own glass. Chimay, Duvel, and Westmalle all have differently shaped, branded glasses, and a Belgian beer drunk in the wrong glass would be an embarrassment. It is said that the shape of the glass allows the beer to breathe optimally, but I like to say that the name in the glass helps you remember what you’re drinking as the night goes on.
True to form, Ann and Peter had all the proper glasses, and we drank each beer in its own. I’m no expert on Belgian beers, but I think I have been converted. A special glass makes a special occasion out of each beer.
The last night I am with Ann and Peter, we celebrate the summer arrival of fresh mussels, from the northern coast. We cook the mussels with onion, a few spices, and, of course, beer. With a side of Belgian fries and mayonnaise (see the following blog post), the meal is perfect. We spend the night around the table, eating, drinking, and talking.
I could not be more grateful, to be welcomed and sent off in the same way: with great hospitality and great beer.