Belgium, well certainly the fair city of Antwerp which I now call my home, is a wondrous place with many delights, the wonderful architecture, the grand history, the beautiful museums, are all reason enough to come for a visit.
But I'm not here to tell you about any of that - there are plenty of websites out there to cater for that kind of insight into Antwerp and beyond. Instead, I would like to concentrate on that most wondrous of Belgian innovations.
24 hour drinking.
For yes, while the UK procrastinates (there's that word again) on the evil that would be unleashed if 24 hour drinking was to become a possibility, Belgium just merely gives a continental shrug of the shoulders and gets on with the matter in hand.
And here's the thing - you very rarely see drunk people, fights, or any of the other sins that would surely be unleashed in the UK an dIreland if the folks back home where to embrace such a thing.
And this is one of the reasons why I love this place.
Not merely the fact that I can get absolutely shitfaced all night long and carry it on into the next day if I so wished (and on occasion have been known to do so) but it is the nonchalant manner in which the Belgians accept this as a way of life. The average Belgian does not go out on their night out until after 11pm. 11pm!! In so many pubs up and down the land in the UK and Ireland, this is when that wonderful tradition of being “asked” to leave the premises by a couple of Neanderthals kicks off.
Premises that had once seemed so welcoming just a few rounds ago are now more like rugby scrums.
Compare this with the Belgian attitude of "drink less volume, drink stronger, drink longer, go home when you feel like it" and you soon see that the two attitudes are worlds apart. Don't get me wrong - it must be a real bitch if you work in the horeca (hotel restaurant cafe) trade, the hours must be horrendous, but it's great if you're on the other side of the bar and in no rush to go home.
However, the average night out in Belgium is fraught with danger and this is the main reason for this "bloglet". So if you're thinking about coming over from the UK and Ireland or further afield were drinking is regulated with some form of closing, please read this little print off and keep guide to having a night out Belgian style.
- The most important rule - if you remember one thing, remember this - "It's a marathon - not a sprint!" Like I said, 24 hour drinking ensures that there is more than enough time.
- There are several hundred different Belgian beers, most of them are over 5% alcoholic strength. Some even go as high as 12%
- A standard beer or pils, such as Stella or Juplier, weighs in at 5.5%. They are called "pintjes" (pronounced "pinch-yas"). And are only 250 ml, less than half the volume of a normal pint back from home. It is not a dent to your macho but oh so fragile male pride to drink these small glasses. It's a marathon - not a sprint!
- Once the beer gets to be too much, you can go onto spirits, but it should be worth noting that these are bloody expensive as I've found out all too late after a session on the Irish whiskeys. But hey - the lure of a Black Bush proves too great for your humble scribe.
- Jenvers are another drink to be found in abundance in Belgium. It is a juniper berry based liquor and there are several hundreds of these to be sampled as well. Most notably at de Vagant, very close to the impressive cathedral in Antwerp's old town. (http://www.worldsbestbars.com/city/antwerp/de-vagant-antwerp.htm) My own particular weapon of choice being a Cristal pintje with a Vieux D'Anvers jenever. Many a trip into oblivion taken with this lethal combination
- And remember, no last orders - so no panic buying, no speed drinking, no.....ah fuck it - why do I bother?... if you see me on a night out, don’t but me drink – I’ll have had enough already – just put me back upright on my barstool!