How to Take a Road Trip (Montréal)

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I’ll bet you think you know how to take a road trip. Get in the car, enter the destination in your device, drive. Right?

Wrong! I mean, yes that will get you somewhere. But to really have an adventure- to make the trip part of the reason for going- I have a few suggestions.

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It helps if you like to drive. And if you have access to a fun car with a stick shift to zoom around in. This is not required, but trust me, it can make or break the fun factor. I love to drive, and while I may appear to be calm, my inner golden retriever wags her tail and hangs her tongue out enthusiastically hoping for an open window every time I get in my car. Word.

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Take the most interesting route, not the fastest. I was heading to a Québécois corn roast called an épluchette de blé d’Inde (say that out loud because it’s fun!) and wanted to bring a really good beer gift. My friends put this thing on every year. It’s a lot of work, they let me stay over, they tolerate my laughable French, and it’s always a blast. I wanted my gift to say, “You guys rock! Please invite me next year!”

So I decided to pop in the Alchemist in Waterbury, Vermont to pick up some Heady Topper. That day they also had Crusher and Focal Banger. Score.

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Know your border rules. Unlike me. Growing up in New York, I have been crossing this border since I learned how to drive- well before we needed passports to do it- yet I did not know I wasn’t supposed to bring more than two cases of beer. I had (ahem) more. At first the border guard said I would have to leave the beer behind (ever see a Golden Retriever cry?) but then she just sort of …. forgot about it. Maybe because I told her I was going to an épluchette- in French? Because I told her I was bringing Heady Topper? Because I might have actually cried? (Not really! At least, I don’t think so…) Whatever it was, after I paid the duty she said I could go. I tried not to run back to the car. I controlled my squeal of glee until I was out sight. And then- sunroof open and French blaring on the radio- WOOOHOOOO! Some of the best thrills are the ones we don’t see coming.


Your journey should continue once you reach the city you were aiming for. Explore your surroundings even when you’re at a party. My hosts live in Montréal beer central. Sure they can walk to Dieu du Ciel, but they are just a few blocks from the innovative cooperative brewery called MaBrasserie. Several different breweries share this space, the tanks, and the tap room. It’s a great way to try super-fresh beer from a variety of approaches and styles- all in one place. I sampled some scintillating brews from Isle de Garde (an IPA “allemande” which I assume means they use German hops), Grendel (Cream APA with a head like a proper Guinness in Dublin), and Boswell (a “Pale ale américain” which I was initially dubious of but which, as my menu margin notes indicate, they nailed).

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I headed back to the maize roast via Brouhaha, another friendly gem for craft beer seekers, for a ridiculous Saison Voatsiperifery. A sandalwood dream. If you’re into that. And I am.

Plan your route back with the advice of your hosts.

I had originally meant to hit Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier because it’s a one-stop best of Vermont showcase, but my hosts alerted me to a place I did not know about. It would not add any driving time yet would add to my new beer experiences. I drove east from Montreal along the northern side of the US border and first stopped at Dunham Brewery to see if my old friend Eloi was there (he was not, but I did get to try the Cyclope Dzeta) and then found, after the prettiest 9 miles of the entire trip through canopies of trees like this one:

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the new Sutton Brouërie. It was full but not frazzled. I sat at the bar, which also overlooks the kitchen, and enjoyed the show while getting inside information from the bartender.

I would have missed these worthy ports of call if I’d had rigid plans. Of course, this meant using a map. Yes- remember those paper things? Phone service is too expensive north of the border, and using a map is a great exercise in truly experiencing your surroundings instead of taking commands from a box. For once in a long time, I felt like I was the boss of my car. And they still have free maps at most rest areas!

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It was time to head home, but I still had a bit of the explorer in me. I knew that Notch Brewing’s new tap room had opened in Salem, Massachusetts but hadn’t had a chance to try it yet. Check!

Information

Alchemist
100 Cottage Club Road, Stowe, VT USA

MaBrasserie
2300, rue Holt, Montréal

Brouhaha
5860, Avenue de Lorimier, Rosemont, Mtl

Brasserie Dunham
3809 rue Principal, Dunham, Quebec

Sutton Brouërie
(You can stay there,too!)
27 principale SUD, Sutton, Quebec

Notch Brewery & Tap Room
283R Derby Street, Salem, MA USA

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Strong Wind Milk (Mongolia)

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A Mop in the Road

About 150 kilometers west of Mongolia’s capital Ulan Bator (“UB”), the road abruptly ends in a cement blockade flanked by two arrows alerting drivers to go around. This is not a fork in the road- it’s more like a mop. Instead of discrete paths, there are criss-crossing strings of dirt trails that widen and shrink depending on the amount of recent rain and eventually peter out completely. With another 200 kilometers to go before our destination, it remains a mystery how our driver knew where to go. Even with his expertise though, our four-wheel-drive vehicle had to be towed across a river- twice.

The optimum vehicle in Mongolia is a horse.

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Vera and I found a map store in UB.

Upon arrival to Mongolia, our van had to wait for cows to get out of the way to leave Chinggis Khaan airport. Not seeing any fences, I still wonder how they keep them off the runway.

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My new riding boots, purchased at the State Department Store, marking me as a “barny” for the horse trek. I learned from one of our (15 year old) traveling companions that a barny is someone who does not know how to do something but dresses the part. Busted!

In Search of Beer

My Aussi beer traveling companion Vera (see Australia, October 2014) met me in Beijing and together we arrived in Mongolia for a two week horse trekking adventure. And, of course, we also planned to explore the imbibing culture. We found two places in UB for beer: MB Beer Plus (above left), which had a brewery on site that makes drinkable German-style lagers, and the rooftop bar of our hotel (Best Western Tuushin, above right) that served a rather flavorless mega-brewery tipple called Ghinggis Beer. We preferred the MB Plus (but wished for a more clever name) and noticed in the pub the same tension that is everywhere in UB: an identity crisis. Mongolian words in Cyrillic letters leftover from socialist occupation, but no Russians; permanent cement walls around portable gers, luxury glass and steel structures with narrow strips of manicured grass next to dilapidated cement buildings with tangled forgotten gardens. But no matter- the drink of this country is not beer, it’s airag. And we hoped to find that in the countryside.

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We discovered, to our delight, that our 14 other traveling companions who signed up for this National Geographic Adventures trip were also imbibers. They insisted on a stop for cases of wine and bottles of scotch and vodka. This in addition to the bar that NG bring along and sets up for glampers every evening.

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As we continued west, the landscape transformed. Power lines, signs, fences, and western buildings disappeared. Roaming clusters of animals- goats, horses, yaks, and even camels appeared- often in the middle of the road.

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Wind Animals

And herein lies the secret to Mongolian beverages, and Mongolia in general: the animals. They live symbiotically with the last nomadic population on Earth. If Mongolians are the land and the sky, then it is the animals that weave them together.

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Even a brief language class emphasized animals. It began with the usual hello (sain baina uu, pronounced “san ban oh”, or the shorter “san-oh” for hi) and thank you (bayar laa, pronounced “buy-air la” with a sort of rolled r, but different).

And then- consistent with the importance given to them- our handsome teacher Boynaa taught us animal names. Yak is sarlag (pronounced sar-log, with the same tricky r of “bayar laa”), goat is yama (pronounced “yamma”), sheep is honi (pronounced “hoin”), and horse- the most revered- is mori (pronounced “mer” as in mermaid, with a rolled r). Even the songs we sang around the fire at night were about horses.

 

The National Beverage

I tried my first fermented mare’s milk, airag, when we met the head lama at the Erdene Zhu monastery in Karakorum. Sipped from a bowl that is shared with others, it was room temperature and both sweet and tangy. I would realize as the weeks went on that all airag is a bit different- depending on many things: the season (this year had been particularly verdant, with animals still eating lush grass and blooming flowers where last year it had already snowed), how long ago the mare had been milked, when she foaled, and so on. Airag has terroir.

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Our first ger visit began with a lesson on yak milking- something Mongolians do every two hours. Our hostess, the lovely Ankhaa who smiles from her eyes, wore a dell that had clearly been used for this task before and was stained with milk.  As with all things related to animals, it was intentional. The aroma from prior milking helps to calm the yak as Ankhaa approaches. Smell, an animal’s keenest sense, is so important to Mongolians that they sniff instead of kiss or hug when they greet each other.

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Yak’s milk cheese hangs to dry inside the center of a ger.

The liquid of animals is part of every bit of Mongolian life. Yak milk is used in milk tea, for yogurt, butter, several kinds of cheeses, and even a distilled vodka. Slightly alcoholic mare’s milk is fermented as daily nourishment for everyone, including children. It welcomes guests, is shared by Nadaam winners (including the horse- he drinks it from a bowl held for him, has his head sprinkled with it, and then the same bowl is passed to the rider to drink from), it is offered to Shamans and the ancestors they channel, and it is part of the offerings to ancestors at ovoos (mountain top shrine-like piles). Upon climbing sacred Mandal Mountain to reach the ovoo, and leaving my evil ancestor there (as one does), I offered three ladles of airag to help seal the deal.

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Small bucket with airbag for the Mandal Mountain ovoo.

Our NG hosts were vigilant in their warnings that we did not have to drink airag as it tends to mess with western guts a bit. Some of my traveling companions did experience some worrying in their colons, but my stomach liked it just fine.

Ger Etiquette

Gers have rules. They are easy but important: Enter right foot first; do not touch the threshold; head left and walk clockwise- guests sit on the left and family on the right; never walk through the two poles in the center; no crossing legs or lacing fingers; if offered anything at least touch the bottom of the vessel in thanks; do not use the left hand for eating. Once seated, the best part begins. All sorts of things are passed for consumption, usually in threes. Tos (a sweet cross between a custard and a porridge made with yak butter), milk tea (made with yak milk), a pile of bread or hard cheese or fried dense dough- all served with sweet fresh yak cream on top similar to clotted cream only (gulp) even better, airag (handed back for a top off after each person), a snuff bottle (admire it, take some if you like, and hand if back), and vodka- just distilled before your eyes and still warm if you are lucky. I got lucky.

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Just distilled from yak’s milk and still warm: fresh vodka with breakfast.

Compared to Mongolian hosts, western “hospitality” has a long way to go. Mongolian homes are truly open- to the point that when they return to their gers from somewhere and find strangers settled inside, eating their cheese and drinking their airag, they rejoice that they could give them comfort, and then join them. This notion put many of us to shame. Imagine a whole world like that.

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When we left Ankhaa’s home, I decided to try the traditional form of departure and leaned into her neck near her thick shiny hair and inhaled deeply. She had the most beautiful rich smell of milk and mother, of land and sky. You could not bottle something this loving and sincere. You have to live it. She graciously did not remark on my own bug spray/three days without a shower odor.

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I plan to call my neighbors, strangers to me now, and invite them over for some of the Mongolian vodka I brought back. And with a nod towards Mongolia, I will discretely sniff them when they arrive.

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My horse for two weeks, the “cowly pretty” Vachement Jolie.

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Beer Crush (Philadelphia)

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It started innocently enough. There I was, walking around Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market– overwhelmed by rich food scents and visions of neon and oysters and meats of all kinds thinking that the one thing that would make all of it perfect would be a beer. But counter after food stall- soda. juice. water. No beer. Everyone seemed so happy. How could they be without beer to go with their hearty meaty lunch sandwiches? Something was missing.

And then I saw it. A few people standing in front of a row of tap handles with a bar behind them. Molly Malloy’s. I checked out the bar- no seats available. That’s when I noticed that the guy next to me was getting his beer to go.

I rubbed my eyes. Am I still in the US?

YES! More people were gathering around, so when I saw that the first beer on the crafty draft list was an “India Cream Ale” I ordered it. To go. I know I know- the plastic cup and the straw is campy. But you know what? Sometimes you gotta go with the locals.

And that’s how I met Ben.

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It was really terrific walking around the food stalls, openly, with a beer. It’s the thrill of going against the hyper-restrictive and puritanical American alcohol culture. The giant smile on my face probably spooked people more than the beer. And I caught myself nearly holding the beer in the air.

It took a few minutes for me to realize it. But the beer was fantastic.

That’s when the stalking began.

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I went back for more St. Benjamin’s, dragging other people away from the Craft Brewers Conference to try it, (all to raves and ‘thanks for showing me this!’) to the point that the bartender just brought me a pint of it when he saw me. Nothing like becoming a predictable regular within a week, especially considering all the special beery events and truly so much incredible beer everywhere in the city. But I could not stop going back for more Ben.

Simultaneously, I became obsessed with Benjamin Franklin, the man. As in, I developed a crush on man long dead.

Philly happens to have a museum devoted to him! Not surprisingly for the man often quoted as saying, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” – some of the exhibits are beer related. His tankard, his rules about work (water at work, beer later- which was new at the time. Yet his particular exhibit did not tame my ardour.) I read his autobiography.

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Part of a video at the Benjamin Franklin Museum showing colonial workers drinking beer. He liked water at work to keep a clear head. It caught on, dammit.

Can you guess where I was and what I was drinking while reading this book about tavern history in Philadelphia? (below)

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And then it hit me. What am I doing? Why visit a museum and do all this reading when St. Benjamin’s is a Philadelphia brewery- I must go there!

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The bones of the structure of Ben Franklin’s house outside of the museum. And the only sun the week of the 2016 Craft Brewers Conference.

Uber could not find it at first. Because the tasting room had only been open a week.

But suddenly- I had arrived!

I tried to calm down and sampled some of the other St. Ben beers.

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Simple, elegant, and open interior of the St. Benjamin’s tasting room. The food is good, too.

While I waited for Belgian brewer Yvan de Baets of Brasserie de la Senne– who shared my new passion and planned to join me- I met a delightful couple at the bar. They were adorable, and locals to Ben (lucky devils) and we hit it off.

Yvan arrived. We ate, drank, and bought a case of the India Cream Ale (Inca) in cans to take back to Cambridge with us. Very happy. And then one of the brewers, Christina Burris, came out to meet us. A woman! Woohoo!

She insisted we have a tour. And the adorable locals joined us. It was a memorable and unexpectedly splendid evening.

As I write this, I am enjoying an Inca in my St. Benjamin’s hoodie, smiling about the great pleasure of discovering and loving a beer that I didn’t find though a website, an app, or a recommendation. Just my taste buds and Harvey Butler luck.

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Ben and me. We get each other.

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Super Sips of 2015

Instead of picking a single best beer of 2015, I give you my favorites in the contexts of enjoying them. Partly because I was not very good about posting my sipping experiences last year (first resolution to break in 2016: post every other week!) and partly because there is no such thing as a favorite, or a best, beer. Only a favorite experience that raised the level- no matter how good the beer already was- to a higher plane. In no particular order, my list of super sips of 2015.

Best Beer in front of my Fireplace
Bog Iron Devil’s Footprint, a Mezcal barrel aged braggot.

Brian Shurtleff brewed this and gave me a bottle when I visited the brewery in Norton. It’s ridiculous. (Please excuse the adorable glass- I use it exclusively between Thanksgiving and Christmas.)

My new fireplace and a warming beer.

Best Beer Sampler
Russian River in Santa Rosa, California

I had to be in San Francisco for work, so I figured I’d just pop up to the famous Russian River Brewery. But it turns out that Santa Rosa is rather far from San Francisco. I decided to arrive early on a Sunday, and thought about renting a car- but who wants to drive after visiting a brewery? I checked into Uber- but it would have been over $200. So I asked a local- Carl Sutton of Sutton Cellars in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Fran, and he knew right away. “Take the Golden Gate 101. It drops you off a block away.” Great! On Sundays it takes over two hours. What.

It was an ordeal, especially because I did not realize that the particular Sunday I chose was Father’s Day- which meant adding a two hour wait once I arrived at the brewpub. Around the corner, I found a delightful place to wait called Third Street Aleworks. I watched my place in line with the app Russian River gave me, and happily sipped away. Good thing I did not have too much, because the sampler at Russian River has 18 – yes 18- (plus a bonus that day) tastes.

Knowing I was not likely to return, and that a bus would deliver me safely back, I ordered a second sampler. Strive to avoid regrets- that’s what I was thinking.

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Best Beer to Share with a New Friend
Horal’s Oude Geuze Mega Blend 2011 at ‘t Waagstuk in Antwerp, Belgium with Claudia Asch

It was nearing the end of the 2015 ICHC (International Conference on the History of Cartography), and while I enjoyed seeing lots of old friends, I had not met any beer geeks. Until I found Claudia.

My first beer with Claudia Asch was a well-cellared gem.

There were several other wonderful beers shared in Antwerp that week with my map geek friends:


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Best Beer Brewed by a School
Cum Laude at the University in Antwerp that hosted the ICHC. It was exactly what I was craving after nearly two weeks in Europe- not too sweet, a show of hops but not over the top, refreshing. Just right. And yes, the school has a brewery!

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Best Beer Enjoyed at a Brewery
Brusseleir at Brasserie de la Senne in Brussels

I arrived in Brussels by train from London on my way to a conference in Antwerp, so technically I had another train to catch. But Yvan de Baets, brewer/owner of Brasserie de la Senne, offered a ride to Antwerp via a visit to his brewery. Who would say no? I had never heard of this beer, but one sniff sent me somewhere both familiar and nostalgic. I was walking in a blooming flower garden in England, and someone was baking scones in the distance- the finish was faint licorice.

I will not provide details of Yvan’s reaction to my description, but apparently I nailed it.

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Best Beer on a Boat- Europe
A beer Regine brought from Germany enjoyed on the deck of a houseboat in Amsterdam. Truly one of the best beers I have ever had, although I do not know or care what it was. See previous post to understand! But in truth the picture says it all.

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Best Beer on a Boat- United States
A beer shared with old friends while sailing around the San Juan islands off the coast of Bellingham, Washington. Again, I do not remember the name of the beer- but it was memorably delicious.

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Best Graduation Beer Brewed with the Graduate
Berry Stout brewed with and for McKain Webb-Lakey (with sous-brewer brother Will) to celebrate her graduation from Berklee College of Music.

When McKain’s Washington-state based parents asked me to watch out for their daughter while she was in school in Boston, I assumed they meant make sure she got a solid craft beer education. She did.

Brewing berry stout

Graduation label

Best Beer in a Hidden Restaurant
Every beer paired with the food at Luksus in Brooklyn. Get over leaving Manhattan and hop on the G train.

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Best Beer with Mom
There were two this year. A Grizzly Paw overlooking Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta and Traveler IPA at the Alibi Room in Vancouver, BC. Yay Canada! Her favorite beer was the Hibiscus Wit at the Alibi Room.

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Best Beer at a National Park Brewery
Did you know that both Jasper and Banff National Parks have on-site breweries? We liked the Rye Shwartzbier at Jasper the most.

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Best Beer in Front of Someone Else’s Fireplace
Local beer from the bottle shop in Golden, British Columbia while peeling apples for apple crisp at the buffalo ranch where we were staying.

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Even if beer isn’t your thing, you should visit this part of the world. Here is why.

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Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake

Best Beer for Breakfast
Bell’s Golden Rye Ale at Little Goat Diner in Chicago.

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Best Birthday Beer(s)
Everything at BFM‘s annual Brassins Public in Switzerland

When your birthday falls on one of your favorite brewery’s annual open house, you should do whatever is necessary to get there, right? And when other friends decide to converge there as well- the beer just tastes better and better.

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Best Beer Surprise at the End of a Journey
BFM La Meule in Fribourg, Switzerland

After failed GPS routes and darkness descending, stumbled on a balcony bar overlooking the lovely town. I do indeed have traveler’s luck.

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Best Beer Gift 
The Cambridge Center for Adult Education has a long history of culinary and other cool culturally enriching classes. I teach several courses, including Beer & Art History- and give my students this tasting glass at the end. CCAE is a non-profit entity, and I donate my time to teach. Because I love it! Check it out.

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What were your favorite sips of 2015? Wishing you all a 2016 full of fabulous imbibing all over the world.

 

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Sensory Magnification (Amsterdam)

Amsterdam houseboat. Thanks Airbnb.

Home for a few days: Amsterdam houseboat. Thanks Airbnb.

I had initially planned to go to Amsterdam on my own. Just three days- mostly to make sure that I visited at least one new (for me) country in 2015. I wanted the experience to be special, so instead of a predictable hotel I rented a houseboat. (above) You should do this.

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I researched craft beer destinations, read about the “Nine Streets” neighborhood (where the houseboat is anchored), and bought my Van Gogh Museum ticket online. (You should also do this- although be prepared for glares from those in the line that circles the museum as you walk directly to the front- and the guards move the rope for you to enter.)

And then, I had a brilliant idea. I decided to see if my dear friend Regine could join me. She was going to miss the conference in Antwerp (see forthcoming post) for the first time since we met at the International Conference on the History of Cartography (ICHC) in Budapest in 2005. We first met after a tour of the exhibit Margaritae Cartographicae at the National Széchenyi Library. We were both inspired to order beer and watch the sunset against the parliament buildings and Danube. We’ve been friends ever since.

It was short notice, she is working on her dissertation, she has a little boy. But she still said yes!

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Sausage, cheese, and beer at t’ Arendsnest

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Much of our sipping was confined to the boat. I mean- why leave it? We had coffee and local pastries in our pajamas on the top deck in the mornings, waving at the tourist boats that passed by as if we lived there all the time. In the evenings we drank wine from the local shop or the beer she brought from her hometown of Hamburg. After exploring canal streets, shopping for flowers and tasting lavender and honey goat cheese- we accidentally stumbled on the best known craft beer bar in Amsterdam, serving only Dutch craft beer, called t’ Arendsnest (the eagle). It was around the corner from our boat.

There is a bar inside, but if you can- sit at one of the few tables outside by the water. The food menu is essentially sausages and cheeses. We loved the lavender sausage and the two year aged cheese with crystals that crunched against our teeth. Later (it was so good we returned the next day) we had the smoked, almost raw (if that’s possible) beef sausage. The great discovery, after trying many samples to find a beer she liked and finally taking a sip of my rye IPA, was that Regine is a hop head! When the super folks at t’ Arendsnest discovered this, they gave us a couple of bottles of their off-menu “homebrew” which is part of their “Fat Five” series.

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Picnic on the deck of the houseboat with hand-carried craft beer from Hamburg.

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Regine discovers she is a hop head!

 

We both brought guidebooks, and Regine’s German version had something mine did not: a section on Amsterdam’s secret gardens. Apparently these gardens are hidden behind homes and accessible only to the surrounding residents, but some of them open a door to the street on occasion and allow people to wander in. All of the ones in her book were inaccessible though. After the fourth street, just as I began to get grumpy, we found a secret passage. A Hofje! We nearly tip-toed through, not wanting to disturb the magic air.

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Other than a glass of rosé in the Miró gardens, and an espresso in a lovely rose-laden café with real candles burning on the bar and every table in the middle of the day, we had one meal off the boat. And what a meal!

Regine passed it on her walk from the train and said it looked good, and the Airbnb host listed it on his “top 10 local places”- what further recommendation did we need? We called for a reservation for an outside table only two hours before we planned to eat- and got it. Our view was better than a painting- the sun glittering on the water and dappling the trees, a perfect breeze, a lovely aroma in the air. They brought us a couple of house elderflower vermouths as an aperitif, and the perfection was sealed. But was it the eel and crawfish velouté, the fish sampler (above), the foie gras “sandwich”, the two bottles of flinty white wine we shared that made this such a spectacular meal? Of course it all helped- but in truth, the boat, the museums, the food, all the imbibing, and the magic that is Amsterdam- were intensely magnified because I shared it with my dear friend. We could have been anywhere.

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One of our strolls brought us to the Begijnhof, a well-kept garden connected to a church. Since the middle ages, single elder women (not nuns) have lived in these private homes and tended to the church and gardens. As we walked by, arm-in-arm, we paused to look at the quiet, elegant homes. Regine said, “The one with the green door.” We smiled and continued to the street, imagining our golden days in Amsterdam.

 

Evening view from the boat

Sundown from the deck of the boat.

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