Arrival in Brussels. What, a beer festival?

Arriving in any new city can be stressful, especially after more than a dozen hours of travel, little sleep and a nine hour time change. However, I found Brussels one of the easier cities to navigate. Starting with the well signed airport and continuing throughout the city with friendly signs pointing the directions to major sights.

After clearing customs, retrieving my bag, and hitting the ATM I wound my way to the basement level to grab one of the frequent trains into the center of Brussels. For just under $6 euro I was off to the city.

Couple things to note, there no ticket validation machine at the airport. Just board the train and you’re off. 25 minutes later I arrived at the central station (3rd stop).

Using the convenient walking directions available from the Marriott website, I headed north through the herbes market on cobbled lanes hoping I was going in the right direction. While it’s an easy walk of probably less than 10 minutes, pulling a suitcase on cobblestone isn’t my favorite thing.

The Marriott is in a fabulous location vey central to the major sights, and with access to the executive lounge the complimentary breakfast, beverages and snacks, not to mention coffee, will be a time and money saver!

After a refreshing nap and quick shower (and several cups of coffee) it was time to begin exploring.

The first and primary destination in Brussels is the Grand Place and it certainly lives up to it’s name. Following the throngs of tourists, I entered what turned out to be a livelier scene than anticipated – a weekend beer festival dominated the Place. Now this changes the weekend plans! After all how many Belgium beer festivals will I have the privilege to attend.

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After asking a few friendly folks how the festival worked, a joined the pay line and dove in. Despite numerous billboards advertising how the system functioned it was confusing to me.

Outside the festival “gates” were pay stations where for 1 euro each you bought beer caps, and for 2 euro each person bought a yellow chip. The beer caps were exchanged for beers at the various brewer stands. Some beers were three caps, others as many as five. Hmmm, how many to buy! The lines are long, so buy enough!

The yellow chips are used as glass deposits. You give the beer vendor the chip for the beer glass, then when you’re done with your beer, you return the glass, collect your chip then can order another beer from another vendor. Each brewer uses different glasses, and like wine, beers use different shaped glasses to bring out the nuances of each beer.

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When you’re done there are refund stands to return your yellow chip and collect your two euro. No, your not supposed to keep the glasses. Leftover caps? Not sure yet about those. I didn’t buy enough as I’ve one chip left – not enough to get a beer. Guess I’ll have to return to the festival on Sunday!

I was surprised by the number of Americans at the festival, mostly young, students perhaps. Whether it’s the welcoming atmosphere of Brussels or simple the amount of beer being consumed and spilled the crowd was extremely friendly and I had a great time chatting with several people, including a small group of US military personnel stationed in Germany.

One delicious white beer and a fruity lambic later, it was time to find some French fries and a serious nap. Nearly every plaza was full of street entertainers or markets and people enjoying the sunny day.

So far, a very warm welcome to Brussels.

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