Some good luck.
I got into Ninove right around noon. The run over was fine, but I ran a large portion of it along a dusty highway with little or no shoulder and poorly laid paving stones. I got off the main road a few times to discover that just on the other side of the buildings along the highway was beautiful green countryside. My host in Antwerp said that this 'ribbon construction' is pretty typical to Belgium.
I started wandering about Ninove with the same kind of eye I had on day 7: the eye you have when you don't have anywhere to sleep. I went by the empty church and knocked on the door. No answer...but I did see some scaffolding I could climb up in order to sleep in the attic. Nearby was a half constructed brick building, a better option I figured. I wandered over to the train station, which had an indoor waiting area. I sat down, warming up from the cold outside, and woke up 2 hours later with drool all over my chin, surrounded by some smirking Belgian Pikey kids. Shameless.
It was now around 4, so I found the public library and got on the internet for a half hour or so before it closed. I type very slowly while trying to get used to these crazy AZERTY keyboards.
I went back to the train station to find a sign which indicated a 21:30 closing time: not an option for sleeping in. I crossed the train tracks and started heading towards the outside of town, looking for a miracle I guess.
I came to an intersection, and across the way I saw open gates to (as the sign indicated) the "Slaghmuylder Brouwerij." Curious, I walked inside and started wandering about. It wasn't long before someone came out of a building and asked me (in Dutch) something along the lines of what I was doing there. I guessed I was trespassing, so admitted that I was an American tourist looking for something interesting to do in Ninove. I think it is agreed that there is nothing...except for this brewery.
The man said that, although the brewery wasn't really open for tours at the hour, he would gladly give me a quick tour. His name is Karel Goddeau, and he began the tour by pouring two glasses of "Witkap-Pater." I began the tour by grinning widely. The beer is awesome. Karel showed me all over the brewery, making the level of craft and tradition behind the beer increasingly clear to me. The brewery has been using the same techniques for generations, and is one of few remaining consistently family owned breweries in the region. Karel informed me that he has his own brewery nearby, where he is one of only a few remaining authentic Lambic blenders. After we had talked for a while about my trip and about the wonders of the brewing process, he brought me to his 'De Cam' brewery, where I tried some of the unblended brew fresh from the cask, and had several varieties of the aged blended beer, including an awesome Kriek (cherry). I learned that Lambic beers can actually only be brewed in a very specific area of the country (Pajottenland), because they have no added yeasts, but ferment spontaneously based on the wild yeasts and bacteria that are present in the air. Even the old stones of the brewery will influence the flavor of the beer. In my opinion, if you like Belgian beer, you haven't tasted it until you talk to this guy and go to these breweries...there is a passion for authenticity and tradition that hasn't been rivaled by any other bar, beer, or brewer that I've experienced thus far.
After the tours, Karel brought me to dinner with his family, where his mother offered to put me up for the night. I had a great dinner, and watched 'Double Jeopardy' with dutch subtitles on tv with the family. Awesome.
Going from being cold and homeless to having a warm meal, a bed and some of the best beer in Belgium is definitely my kind of miracle.
05 June 2009