Friday, 11 April 2014

The Continent By Rail

I’ve done a fair bit of drinking in Germany, but I haven’t actually been back there since before I started writing this blog five years ago. Worse than that, I haven’t been in Belgium even longer, since you paid for your beer there in francs.

If you time things right, you can drink top-notch beer in three great beer countries in one day. Taking an early flight from Glasgow gets us to London for opening time. We have to change trains at London Bridge: the Market Porter is just around the corner, where they serve a splendid pint of Harvey’s Sussex Best. Sadly there’s only time for one here.

Arriving at St Pancras Station for the train, Sourced Market is a godsend, stocking fresh beer from London’s tiniest breweries. Yes, it’s not cheap, but neither is it extortionate. At least, I didn’t come away feeling cheated – like I do when I find myself paying over the odds for a mediocre beer in the type of outlets that have dominated station retail for so long. How much more civilised it is to stroll onto the train with beer from the likes of Five Points and Pressure Drop to keep us going until Belgium.

We arrive in Brussels with a twenty-five minute delay due to vandalism – apparently cable theft is also a problem in Belgium. This is rather annoying, because we have only scheduled in an hour and a half here in the first place. Brasserie Cantillon, just round the corner from Midi station, closes at five – is it worth even going? What the hell, of course it is!

Some people will say Cantillon is in a dodgy part of town. It doesn’t look any worse than where I live in Glasgow (make of that what you will). Although we come through the door at five minutes before closing time, they are still gracious enough to serve us a glass of straight unblended lambic. Wonderful stuff it is too.

For a last beer we make do with one of the unpromising-looking cafés on the north side of Midi station. This area has been redeveloped since I first changed trains here, and all the little cafés either side of the station have gone, replaced by fancier places with less character; which is a shame.

I used to drink Vieux Temps on the cross-channel ferry, back when there were cross-channel ferries. I order one out of nostalgia, and it’s terrible, a sugary pale with little memorable about it. Oh well. But look around: there are people drinking Trappist beers, yet it’s not a specialist beer café. That’s the joy of drinking in Belgium – good beer is ubiquitous, right next to the commodity stuff – as we discover when we pick up canned Rodenbach in a convenience store before getting on the train again.

The train from Brussels to Cologne is a pleasant enough trip in which to sup a bottle or two of lambic. The coming third beer city of the day is much less revered by geeks, but as we step off the train in the vast, cavernous Cologne Hauptbahnhof I know exactly where I’m heading. More of that tomorrow.


  1. The single greatest tragedy of the airline liquid ban for me is not being able to stuff my hand luggage with cans of Rodenbach, like in the good old days.

    Of course, I could go to Belgium by rail, but would likely die of thirst before Crewe.

  2. I have found that so-called 'dodgy' areas are often where the best drinking holes are. back in Prague, given the choice between the city centre's sanitised, tourist friendly locations, and heading to Zizkov, Nusle, or Karlin, I'd be on the tram in a heartbeat.