The Cretan Craft. Part 1.

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Saisons in the sun, part three. Bruges

The four phoned man is back with us this morning, which makes for an interesting air at my birthday breakfast. More guests have spied his cellular antics and appear curious.

Following breakfast we make our way to the station, via taxi of course. The train to Bruges arrives, we board and depart on the perfect geometry of the track beneath the birdsnest of the catenary. Precisely 1 hour and 6 minutes later we arrive and all around is the smell of chocolate.

Wandering away from the station and down the quaint cobbled streets some kid rattles past on his monkey bike. Nearing the centre, the clatter of suitcases on the cobbles fade and is replaced by the ringing of bicycle bells and horseshoes.

An awning shouts ‘beers’, I respond, ‘ok in a minute!’ We enter the beer shops and I feel like a kid in a sweet shop, my wife is one as she enters a chocolatier. I’m slightly overwhelmed by the choice so we continue our stroll.

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Further towards the centre of Bruges, a West Highland Terrier reminds us of home and we sit for a drink. A light, malty Bruges Blonde from the barrel it is, along with her kir royal.

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A sign in a shop window proclaiming ‘There are so many beautiful reasons to be happy’ catches my eye. In Belgium, beer is all of them, and as I pick up two bottles of Westmalle Tripel for €1.50 each, this is confirmed.

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Taking on water as we walk away from the square we happen across a bar of 400 beers going by the name of Cambrinus. Quickly I establish my choice of Forestinne Ambrosia. A spicy, piney, speciality amber beer. At 7.5% it’s pure nectar.

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Our seat at the bar is booked all day……

Hopus, as chosen by my wife, is next. 5 hops, 8.3%, flip top bottle and sexy glass, I’m all over it….

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Next, I ask the bar man for his recommendation and end up with a truly breathtaking hoppy blonde. Triporteur from Heaven. With a bucket load of familiar hops in a Belgian blonde, I have a new favourite colour…….I later discover that the hops are East Kent Golding, Styrian Golding and Cascade.

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We thank our host and continue to stroll around the back streets of Bruges. I vape and she enters a vintage shop, bicycles whizz past. Tourists litter the place as we admire the passing swans.

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Further along, I hear the cry, ‘do you want more beer?’ as we come across the beer wall. Hmmmm, thinking time required.

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At least I’ve found my beer scooter.

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I take a Westmalle Dubel, place myself adjacent to the canal and end up discussing the history of the Kwak glass with some Americans who happen to land next to me. They were in search of some English beer of all things, so I imagine they were pretty disappointed with the Belgian treats they brought to their table.

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Leaving the Americans behind to ponder their next move, we enter the Bottle Shop, stock up and continue on.

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Further stocking up takes place at Brown Sugar as we head back to the station via a quick caffeine boost and a top up of the draw.

On board the air conditioned comfort of the double deck 18.08 from Bruges, we head back to Brussels.

To be continued when I return to Brussels at the end of August for the European Beer Bloggers Conference. #EBBC15

Part one here, part two here!

Saisons in the sun, part two. Brussels

At breakfast there’s a guy on the table next to us with four dissimilar mobile phones! Do you really need that many phones? I’ve heard what having two phones makes you, but four?  Could it be one to call his mum, one for his wife, another for his girlfriend, and the other?  Who knows……

After breakfast we make our way to the flea market at Place du Jeu de Balle and have a good wander round. There’s lots of eclectic stuff and a good mix of everything.  We could have stayed here for hours discovering all the little trinkets and oddities that are on offer.

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Chandelier spare parts, tools and beer glasses dotted about the place. Guys selling rugs laid on the floor for all to walk over, which was unfortunate and hardly fair when they’re being sold!

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After meandering through the stalls we take a refreshment break. A glass of Grimbergen Blonde, with its sweet, soft, yeasty, bananary tinged character offers up a good time to reflect on the previous few hours perusing.

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With the Grimbergen departed and after a further few hundred yards of energy expulsion, we plant ourselves outside La Brocante. Funky jazz band jamming we order up lunch and drinks.

My fruity wife decided she’d take a cherry beer and ended up with Kriek Boon which she was impressed with, but left her thirsty, not necessarily for more, but for water! I on the other hand had Delta from Belgian Beer Project. A Belgian IPA, the aroma of which is difficult to separate from the mix of food, coffee and surrounding cigars. Similar to a classic IPA but which has much more of a tang and yeasty character. It’s bitter but feels quite sour at the same time.

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Following this and preceeded by the words ‘excellent choice’ was a Westmalle Trappist Tripel, and I can’t see us moving for at least half an hour. My wife’s eyes shot out and brows hit the clouds when she saw it’s 9.5%. It is after all a fairly substantial beer for only 2pm. But then this has to be the most drinkable beer of this strength I’ve had the pleasure of drinking. I was so in awe of this beer that I completely forgot to fathom its taste; instead I just admired the creation that sat before me and settled right into it.

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Walking through the streets towards Place de la Chapelle Kapellemarkt, we come across two guys walking with a music box blasting out reggae tunes, who in England would probably be accused of being a nuisance, brighten up the light drizzle now descending upon us.

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After our Bob Marley moment we head back to the hotel stumble across the Leffe Cafe, but I receive the look that says no more beer, for now. I don’t mind though, a 2cv is spotted opposite so I take that instead.

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We head out for the evening, and no messing we head straight to Le Cirio; one of the oldest bars in Brussels. The Belgians are reknown for having a glass for each beer and here of all places is where they appear most proud. On display are glasses for almost every conceivable Belgian beer. It must be pretty hard work for a new employee to find their feet, or glasses as it were.

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Here I find myself getting acquainted with a nice blonde, a Ciney blonde in fact. Another Lambic is in order for my wife; much like a cherry tart this one.

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Sat people watching we see something drastically unsettle the couple opposite; both drinks are necked, one being a Westmalle Tripel too! Something has obviously bothered them and they’re off……

We are too, for dinner, but at a more leisurely pace.

To be continued in part three.

Part one here!

Saisons in the sun, part one. Eurostar. 


First experience of Eurostar? Having never traveled on it I was excited, but on arrival at check in at St Pancras I immediately lost all enthusiasm. Chaos doesn’t even come close to explain the organisation in place to check everybody through. The amount of baggage scanners is plentiful but then you’re guided, well you shuffle aimlessly towards two hardly noticeable entrances marking the passport check. Nobody has a clue what to do and a massive bottle neck is apparent. Surely the designers of the station could have come up with something slightly better. Is this really an improvement over Waterloo International?

All I can say is I was so glad to finally make it on to the platform, but to then only discover how ignorant some travelers can be. Stood blocking the platform with a combination of bags, trolleys, children and other shite. Honestly! I just want to get on the train!!!!

Facing backwards the English countryside makes my head spin. Would a beer counter this, or should I just look above into the overhead glass luggage rack and catch a sneaky reflected glimpse of what the person in front is reading? 

In the tunnel walking through the join between carriages is like walking through an airlock with only the noise of the articulated bogie below for comfort. 

We emerge in France, or at least I think we do, it doesn’t actually feel like we’ve left the UK. 

That is of course until Delphine announces our next stop which is Lille. 

The fields are the same, pylons and hay bails too. And I’m still going backwards, at what could only be described as ludicrous speed. I keep mistakenly wriggling my toes so as to prevent DVT; but I remind myself I’m not on a plane. 

Arriving in Brussels, now I know we’ve left the UK a long way behind.

To be continued….

Budapest? But I don’t even like George Ezra!

Over the Easter weekend, four of us made the journey to Budapest. This is somewhere that I’ve not been to before and my only knowledge of the place has been learnt from watching the Formula 1 when it’s been to the Hungaroring. Now I could bore you with my, ahem, encyclopaedic knowledge of F1, but, in true Murray Walker style, I need to interrupt myself and talk about our holiday.

The flight over was pretty uneventful, but that didn’t stop Ryanair from blasting out a fanfare on landing. As if to say, “We made it, aren’t you lucky we survived?” Well yes, clearly, but was it really necessary?

By the time we arrived at the hotel, time had ticked on a fair way so it was straight to bed for a good nights sleep all ready for the first day!

Conveniently, our hotel was situated right next to Keleti Station, which boasts train, tram and metro services, so off we walked to our first destination which happened to be a local flea market. This ended up being presented like a typical car boot sale but without the cars. Quite a lot of local tat but strangely an awful lot of English music and DVDs; legitimate copies of course.

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One stand however did catch my eye, one that was riddled with model trains! This takes me back to my childhood, I used to love my train set. I sometimes wish I still had it all, set up in the loft, but unfortunately for me my wife has decided to turn the loft into a guest room! And now the only thing I get to keep up there, among the random boxes and Christmas decorations, is my little stash of Jaipur X, just don’t tell any guests it’s there!

Once I’d stopped reminiscing, we wandered off through City Park and found a little, well, fairly well established market next to Vajdahunyad Castle which offered some amazing looking fare! My wife had been fascinated by Chimney cake, so to keep her quiet we found a vendor and she indulged.

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A little further through the market I caught my first glimpse of Hungarian Craft Beer. It’s only about 11am, so lets get a beer.

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The choice was superb, and though the menu was partly written in English, even I struggled to choose something to quench my morning thirst. I decided on the Lehmann Haziser, a nice crisp and fruity pilsner which went down really well on the fresh but sunny morning.

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After a little more walking, the health app on my wife’s iPhone 6 is going hell for leather now, we made our way down into the more central part of Budapest. Taking the walking option was quite nice, the architecture is special and there was quite an abundance of Metro stations along our chosen route, but we strutted on.

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We suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a snow storm and couldn’t decide whether to buy a jacket, get something to eat and sit inside or remain outdoors. Common sense reigned supreme and we sat outside with some hearty food and a drink. We had stumbled across what could almost be described as a Christmas market, like we’d have at home, except this one was open when we needed it to be.

Diced pork knuckle with new potatoes and a pint of Borsodi was the order of the moment, which was immensely satisfying, and extinct just as rapidly as the snow storm that had brought us here.

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Following a rather aimless walk we stumbled across a bar called Csendes. This place has to be unique. Where else can you enjoy your drink whilst sat in a bath tub, other than at home of course. And my choice of beer; Soproni Demon. This was delicious, really smooth and malty, with a whole load of liquorice chucked into it’s deep, dark redness.

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On to the evening, and my wife, being the organised soul that she is, had found somewhere for us to partake in some supper. Sophie and Bens Bistro on Kaldy Gyiula utca was it, and on entering we were greeted like friends and shown to our seats, which we could choose, not that they were quiet, we were just given the choice instead of being told, ‘you will sit there’ and’ sit down now’

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The decor was smart and not excessive, but the choice of food on the other hand did make us stop and think for a while. So whilst we made up our minds, we ordered drinks, standard. Being the inquisitive one amongst us, I decided to opt for the drink with the most bizarre name, Rothbeer Pyromania. Even the waiter said, you do know this is a dark beer? Well I didn’t, but now I really want it. And boy did it live up to it’s name. (By this point I had clearly become adept at choosing the dark beers, and purely by chance I had picked another fantastic beer.) Beautiful copper red colour, sublime caramel and smokey, open fire-esque flavour. I was not expecting this at all. Forget the food, I’m on this all night.

But let’s not dismiss the food too quickly, the hand cut chips were truly breathtaking, and the burgers were simply to die for. This place really proves that it’s not that difficult to deliver outstanding food in the form of something as simple as burger and chips.

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The next day we decided to do some touristy stuff and headed for the funicular railway that led up to Buda Castle. Unfortunately for the iPhone we decided to use the Metro to get a little closer to our destination.

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From the top of the hill you get a superb view of both Buda and Pest; the two towns separated by the mighty Danube. Apparently we’d consumed too much alcohol by this point so coffee it was. Actually quite nice too, and feeling refreshed by our caffeine buzz we headed back down the hill and on the hunt for some lunch.

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Almost by chance we found a place called The For Sale Pub, which as it happens, isn’t. The interior of this place is interesting to say the least. Hand written notes in every conceivable language litter the walls and ceilings, and even a few cigarette packets too.

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We managed to get a table and sat for lunch. And I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen a menu with quite so many choices, well over 120 in fact. We eventually ordered, and whilst we waited, consumed the numerous monkey nuts that sat in the middle of our table. Now like any good Briton, we placed the spent shells in the candle containing bowl on the table, only to be told to throw them on the floor! Was this really the normal practice we should adopt? It seemed so, and became quite amusing just launching the shells floorwards.

Once we’d fought our way through the mountain of food that we were dealt, we found ourselves on the hunt for a dessert. The New York Cafe was the place to head, and head there we did. The approach to the Cafe was like any normal walk to an eatery. But on arrival we found ourselves gazing skywards and totally awestruck by the chandeliers and ceilings.

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We’d only come here for pudding but somehow I managed to shoehorn a beer into our appointment. Yet another dark beer, Staropramen Dark. Now this was a perfect match with the chosen chocolate dessert.

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Later that evening we headed back out for a few drinks and possibly some food. We headed back to the area around Sophie and Bens where we found quite a swanky wine bar. I had no choice but to drink some wine as that’s all they sold! I’m just glad I avoided the embarrassment of asking for a beer; after my wife asked for a cocktail I kept my mouth shut!

Next stop was a proper bar, that sold proper drinks. And I was rather intrigued by a local beer; Tavoli Galaxis. This appeared to be a single hop IPA hopped with just Galaxy. Now this, after the wine was like a breath of fresh air, and the bartender described it as a Hungarian hand crafted beer. Now this I really like. Single hop beers can really be let down by their malt content but this, this is immense. I really struggled to take it slowly, and just craved more.

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So how on earth do you follow this? Easy as it happens. We venture into what would appear to the only craft beer bar in the whole of Budapest. There may be others, but I couldn’t find them!

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Lehuto, on Hollo utca. Quite a small place, down a few stairs and fairly well tucked away. You really need to know this place is here or you’d just pass it by. Now if I said the previous bar was a proper bar, then I was wrong, Lehuto is a proper bar. It felt like a home from home, beer menu up on a chalk board and a huge bottle list on the wall.

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I was like a kid in a sweet shop, where on earth do you begin with such a choice? Well, I opted for the Zodiak Rye IPA. Not too strong and tasting was sublime. Really citrusy with a light bitterness and quite full at the same time. This was an awesome opener to what would become my evening. Following this I went for the Zodiak Rye stout. At 8.2% it looks to be quite a substantial drink, but you are greeted by a chocolatey, fruity beer that’s so easy drinking at the same time. But you daren’t spill any, it’s so viscous it would be like the Great Molasses Flood of Boston re-enacted here in Budapest!

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So how do you follow two great beers such as these? Well, the Kaltenecker Chopper IPA is exactly how I did it. Gorgeous biscuity, caramel and grassy aroma, coupled to a bread taste which is light and so smooth. For an IPA from the bottle it’s good and malty and the hops add a nice bitterness to it. This is a truly satisfying and wholesome beer.

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I could have stayed in Lehuto’s all night, but I couldn’t be selfish so we pressed on to our last bar. Again I opted for the Galaxis, but more important here was the music. The song playing was Dirty Vegas, Days Go By. I absolutely love this song, I’ve not heard it for years and it really made my night in a bizarre kind of way.

I say it was our last bar, but on the way back to the hotel we were seduced by a place, the name of which I forget, but the drink we consumed will never be forgotten. I won’t go into it too much and will just leave you with one word, Unicum…..

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Our final day was to be cut short by the fact our plane left during the afternoon, but fear not we had a place to eat lunch all pre booked. It was just a matter of finding it. Now I thought Lehuto was easy to miss but this place, Zeller, was even easier to pass by. But we’re so glad we didn’t. We lowered ourselves into the restaurant from the street via a number of stairs, and oh my were we in for a treat.

We were shown to our seat, a nice booth, by a simply perfect waitress. If I could have taken her home, I would have. She was French but living in Budapest, and the warm feeling she created inside made the walk all the more worth it. And I wasn’t the only one who felt it.

We were offered a glass of their own sparkling wine, which was similar to a Prosecco. This was absolutely delicious and the elderflower flavour was just sublime.

The food menu was concise enough to offer a good choice, but not so much that you were left struggling to decide what to eat. I opted for the fish of the day, which was salmon served with pak choy. When the food arrived it was like looking at a photograph, the presentation was perfect and the portion size was just right.

All this and they even manage to squeeze in the own brand of beer; Zeller Sor.  Advertised as Irish Red, it is in actual fact Stari Ir Voros.  This beer is beautifully buttery, caramelly and so smooth; being served in a wine glass really sets it off too.

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It’s not hard to understand why Zeller, according to Trip Advisor, is the number one restaurant in Budapest.  The whole experience from start to finish is so relaxing and enjoyable, and we found ourselves never wanting to leave.

But leave we must, and off back to the hotel we headed to pack for the journey home.

The flight home was, again, pretty uneventful, all except for the landing.  We swayed from one side to the next and came in at a fair lick.  The thrust reversers were working overtime, and we only just managed to scrub our velocity before reaching taxiing speed and making the sharp turn off the runway.

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Now I know what the fanfare is for…..