On this trip we were determined to get to the St. Sixtus abbey (Sint-Sixtusabdij) in Westvletern, the home of some of the most-sought after beers in Belgium. While the monastery is (unsurprisingly) closed to visitors, the cafe, In De Vrede, is conveniently located across the street and serves all three of their beers. With this in mind we rented a car in Bruges and explored a bit of southwest Belgium.
Three of the six of us didn’t drive stick at all, and sharing responsibilities can get pricey in a rental, so Meg graciously volunteered to be the designated driver for the day. The rest of us crammed ourselves into the car and we made our way south.
We had unfortunately picked a day that was the ‘observed’ Armistice holiday so that combined with the off-season timing meant several businesses were closed. Importantly, In de Vedre was not!
After sampling the three beers over a long lunch we each purchased a six pack of the Westvletern 12, then traveled on to the nearby town of Ypres.
Also spelled Ieper, this city was near the battle lines of several key WWI battles and was pretty well flattened. The amount of lives lost in the area is staggering- for example, the Third Battle of Ypres saw the loss of half a million British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers within ~100 day period.
Since it was Armistice Day there were red poppies adorning the numerous memorials around town and many people were wearing a single poppy lapel pin. All of these paper flowers are made by the British Royal Legion, inspired by the WW1 poem, In Flanders Fields.
We enjoyed the rebuilt landmarks, including the dominating Cloth Hall and the beautiful St. Martins Cathedral.
With a little daylight left we decided to visit the Tyne Cot Cemetery on the way out of town, home to nearly 12,000 WWI dead, many unknown.
You can’t help but be moved seeing row after row of stones.
From here we made one last stop in the town of Roeselare. Once again we were in search of beer, this time “ongefiltered” Palm and Rodenbach’s Foederbier that are only available at De Zalm in the middle of town. We got turned around a bit but managed to find a parking spot just a few blocks away. Expecting more of a pub we found a small restaurant, but they had a table large enough for us on the side of the bar and we all squeezed in. We also ordered a sampler plate which had a fairly high fish quotient… luckily I wasn’t very hungry :)
Our journey back to Bruges was mostly uneventful… except for the petrol stations. Filling up the car before returning it became a comedy of errors, with one station having just closed (at 8p) and our inability to get any one of a half dozen cards to work at a second station (we eventually froze the computer and left frustrated). A third station and our trusty USAA ATM card finally worked, allowing us to return the car and catch a bus back to town. Meg was finally able to relax and enjoy a beer after a hard days effort carting all of us around southern Belgium!
The full set of Bruges photos can be viewed on Flickr.