Turnhout is not exactly one of the tourist hotspots of Europe — nevertheless, this small town was my first stop in the tiny nation of Belgium. Situated about 50km's east of Antwerp — in the northern reaches of Belgium, near the Dutch border — Turnhout is a quaint but mediocre place to hang out. I came here to visit my friends Annick and Stef, with whom I stayed for two nights, and with whom I had an absolute blast.
Last night was a big night — but it wasn't until this morning that I realised just how big. As far as I can remember, all that happened was that Stef and I returned home at around 3am, that I crashed straight into bed (I remember tucking in), and that the adventures ended then and there. My memory is that I slept solidly for the rest of the night, and that I woke up at around 11am, groggy yet otherwise fine. But apparently, there was an additional epilogue to the annals of the night, and one of which I have no memory whatsoever. It seems that for the second time on this trip (and in my life), alcohol has left a gaping gap in my memory. I experienced a Belgian beer blackout.
Turnhout may be a small and insignificant town; but if you're there with the locals, and if you're willing to hit a few pubs, you'll find that it sure as hell ain't sleepy on a Saturday night. To my great surprise, tonight was one of the biggest nights I've had this year. I drank more beer, more types of beer, and a higher quality of beer than I've ever drunk before in my life; and hopefully (in the interests of my own health and sanity) more than I'll ever drink again. After our greasy local dinner, we returned to Turnhout; and while Annick and Karlijn retired back home for the evening, Stef and I began a long and sustained night of beverage-sampling, that spanned several pubs and numerous brews. After tonight, I haven't yet conquered all 500+ of Belgium's beers; but I believe I've made a solid dent in the landscape, and a promising start.
When we think of "hot chips", most of the English-speaking among us think of the name "French fries", and we thus believe that the world's favourite cooked potato snack originated in France. This, however, is wrong. Legend has it that back in WWII, when the American troops were fighting in Europe, they sampled the dish for the first time, and liked it so much that they took it home with them. But so bad was their knowledge of European geography, that they thought they were down in France — when in fact they were fighting in Belgium! Having now been to Belgium, I now know that the true name of the dish is "Belgian fries". And what's more, nobody cooks up a better plate of fries than do the Belgians.
Along with beer and chocolate, Belgium is also famous world-wide for being the home of amazing waffles. You can get a waffle in all but the smallest towns around here, and every time they're guaranteed to be fresh, hot, and delicious. This morning in Turnhout — as part of the town tour — Stef treated me to my first-ever geniune Belgian waffle (a syrup-coated beauty, no less) in the town's central Christmas market. What can I say, except that they live up to their formidable reputation, and warm you up to boot?
After last night's relaxing, beer-filled introduction to Belgium, this morning Stef continued the intro, with a tour of his humble town of Turnhout. Actually, Stef grew up in an even smaller town several km's away (almost touching the Dutch border) — but he's basically living in Turnhout now. It's a typical little Flemish town: filled with the things you'd expect from a town anywhere in Europe, such as shops, bars, and plenty of history. As well as seeing the more important landmarks, I also got to sample a bit of the local cuisine, and to hear a little about the town's developments over the years. Plus, of course, we had a bit more beer.
This afternoon I arrived in Turnhout (northern Belgium) to see my friends Stef and Annick, who are half of the original Belgian Front. As with seeing Regine in Cologne last night, this was a reunion with 2 of my 10 amazing companions from the Salkantay hike, that I did in Peru back in April. Stef was there, waiting for me at tiny Turnhout train station when I pulled in; and soon after, I also saw Annick, as well as the couple's little niece Karlijn (who they're looking after for the weekend). Good to see that The Front is as crazy and as fun as ever.