Over the years, I have written about the beer scene in many European countries, but I haven’t written very much about Belgium. Sure, I covered some places in Brussels and Brugges, but I am a novice compared to those who make annual visits and know both the back streets of Antwerp and the green country lanes of Payottenland.
I am happy to tell that I belong to a group of eight Scandinavian beer writers invited to a four-day visit to Belgium next month. More about the itinerary later.
I like to plan ahead, so I have already spent some time with google maps, guide books and other sources. My guides to Belgium were a few years old, so I thought I’d check what’s available.
There are guide books of all shapes and sizes. With 3D drawings of palaces and museums, with pull out or fold-out-and-never-able-to-fold-back-again-maps. And there is a peculiar tradition among the guidebook publishers – they hide the publication date of the book as well as they can, fearing that they will be considered past their sell-by date.
But there are some real gems out there. On Amazon, there are scans of old and out of print books, I stumbled across Peeps at Many Lands: Belgium by George W. T. Omond, published in 1909 and now in the public domain.
According to Wikipedia, the author was awarded the Order of the Crown for his books about Belgium. I have a nagging feeling that the Belgians did not read the books before giving him the award.
A few highlights:
…..This seems a dull and hard life, but the Flemings do not find it so. Like all Belgians, they are fond of amusement, and there is a great deal of dancing and singing, especially on holidays. Sunday is the chief holiday. They all go to church in the morning, and the rest of the day is given up to play. Unfortunately many of the older people drink too much. There are far too many public-houses. Any person who likes can open one on payment of a small sum of money to the Government. The result is that in many quite small villages, where very few people live, there are ten or twelve public-houses, where a large glass of beer is sold for less than a penny, and a glass of coarse spirits for about the same price. Most of the drinking is done on Sunday, and on Monday morning it is often difficult to get men to work. There are many, especially in the towns, who never work on Mondays. This is quite understood in Belgium, and people who know the country are pleased, and rather surprised, if an artisan who has promised to come and do something on a Monday morning keeps his word. Of course there are many sober work-people, and it is a rare thing to see a tipsy woman, much rarer than in England; but there is a great deal of drunkenness in Belgium.
The rooms in these public-houses are pretty large, but they get dreadfully hot and stuffy. The constant laughing and talking, the music, and the scraping of feet on the sanded floor make an awful din. Then there are sometimes disputes, and the Flemings have a nasty habit of using knives when they are angry, so the dancing, which often goes on till two or three in the morning, is the least pleasant thing about these gatherings.