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9.9 Beer

We beelined it from Luxembourg City to Ghent stopping just for short breaks. Mike's shoulder held up well with the change to highway riding. We drove through the town right to the center and pulled up in front of the hotel and were confused a bit because there was no sign and just a door that entered directly from the street. I called the front desk and they assured us we were at the right place, and said to come in the door and they would greet us. Upon entering we were met by a lovely gal who took us to a window in the hallway and we checked in. The rooms were very homey; the whole place had the air of being a family home that had been converted into a hotel. Very funky and warm.

They allowed us to park our bikes in an open area between the hotel and its restaurant/bar. I got on the phone right away and called my friend Todd who lives in Sweden to check to see if he was on the train heading to Ghent.

We were orchestrating a small surprise for Mike because Todd was not only Nick’s and my friend from the early days of our basketball group but was a longtime friend of Mike's also, dating back 20-plus years. Mike had reconnected with Todd on the basketball court one night when Todd just happened to be in town from Sweden and was playing in our regular Wednesday night game. Mike had joined our BBall group recently through another friend, Ben, and the two had no idea that they both had Nick and me as common friends.

I got through to Todd and he said that he was at the station in Ghent and heading our way. Perfect timing. He met us at the hotel bar, and we took off for a nighttime tour of Ghent. We walked along the beautiful river Leie stopping at several pubs for beers and ended up at a restaurant right as they were getting ready to close. They were able to seat us but had a limited menu due to the late hour. I ordered what looked to be the lovely Chateaubriand and was sorely disappointed when I bit into a leathery piece of beef scrap. I pointed this out to the waiter, and he threw up his arms and said "What do you want me to do about it, I didn't cook it" I told him it was un-eatable and that I would be fine, and it would be ok to just remove it from the bill. He adamantly said no which prompted me to ask to see the manager. I saw the two animatedly discussing the situation and the manager came back and apologized for the dinner but said that he could not take the charge off the bill because it was already in the system. I was livid (in an admittedly Ugly American way) but accepted the bill and paid for it begrudgingly, telling the manager to expect a poor Yelp review. We left and later I felt guilty for making such a big deal out of a trivial situation. I’d been around the world and eaten sheep balls for Christ’s sake and here I was making a big deal out of some overcooked meat falsely labeled Chateaubriand. It did taste about as good as high-grade dog food, far better still than most of the food we ate in Mongolia.

​The next day we all got on a train to Bruges because Todd (being a beer connoisseur) wanted to find a legendary beer hall that served a mythical Untappd App 9.9-rated beer. Sounded like a good plan to us.

We all trekked around Bruges, finally finding the spot Todd was looking for: Brugs Beertje, or "the greatest bar on the planet" according to Yelp and Untappd. It looked like a bar to us, the uninitiated, but Todd was in heaven. We sat down and the waitress brought Todd the beer menu, at least 50 pages worth. Todd also informed us that in beer circles the waitress/proprietor was world-famous for her knowledge of Belgian beers and brewing.

The three of us had no idea what we were looking at, but we were thirsty. Todd was looking like the devil at a virgin sacrifice. The waitress came back and asked us what we wanted, and Mike shouted out "I just want to get fucked up!"


This went over like a lead balloon with the waitress but had Nick and I shitting our pants with laughter. Todd didn't look amused. We deferred to his and the waitress's informed choices and soon we each had a bottle of something different in front of us.


Todd said he had ordered the 9.9-rated beer from Untappd at $50 a bottle for himself but that we all could have a taste. He poured the contents into a like-labeled glass and handed it to Mike to take a sip. Mike picked up the glass slowly and cautiously and with great reverence proceeded to drain the glass in one big guzzle. The look on Todd's face went from horror to anger then eventually to a smile as both Nick and I just about fell on the floor in fits of laughter. Mike of course offered to buy Todd another and we all laughed and drank another beer or three.

It was getting a bit late and Mike, Nick, and I were getting a little tired and drunk, plus Mike's arm was throbbing so we headed back to the train station and left Todd at the bar. He told us he was going to take the last train back to Ghent and that he was then going to go directly back to Sweden. We said our goodbyes and headed towards the train.


The next day I talked to Todd to see how his trip back to Sweden went and he told me that he had missed the night train and ended up wandering around Bruges looking for an open bar until the first train left in the morning. He still sounded exhausted and hung over over the phone.

The next day we took a very soggy walking tour of central Ghent, ending the day at the main castle which housed the fascinating Museum of Torture. The whole castle tour was a bit creepy because of the weather and was the perfect setting for a stroll through the history of torture. I would recommend this to anyone visiting Ghent.

In the morning we saddled up and rode north to Calais, France, and spent the night where we were then to catch the ferry to Dover, England at the crack of dawn the following morning.

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