After getting married in September 2010 we decided to do the opposite of settling down; so we packed up our life, stuffed it in our parent's attic and hit the road for what is essentially an extended honeymoon! We started our trip on 29th December 2010 spending 4 months travelling overland through Europe, Russia and Mongolia to China. After many a train and bus journey we caved-in and flew from Western China to Malaysia, and worked our way north to Thailand and Cambodia. The time came for us to replenish our bank accounts, so we headed to Western Australia for work in July 2011 and lived in Fremantle until February 2012. After a couple of months back home seeing our families and friends, we headed back down-under. This time we headed for New Zealand and we are currently living in Wellington. Our blog started as part of an elaborate wedding present from two of our very good friends. The idea was that on our trip we should blog from every country we visit, detailing the sights, sounds and smells and most importantly, the beer. We have certainly had fun writing it - but moreso, living it!

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Belgium & Groezrock - April 2012

Free beer in Leuven's Old Market
Scroll to the bottom of this post or click here to listen to my Groezrock highlights Spotify playlist.

So the time had come again for us to say our goodbyes, and even after a 6 week extension of our original plans, in the end it felt like it'd gone in a flash. It was sad to say our goodbyes, and this time it felt a little like we were jumping into the void, as we wouldn't be doing any travelling along the way and would need to hit the ground running in New Zealand with paid work, or at the very least free accommodation.

We were due to fly from Amsterdam, and had decided to head back to our adopted homeland of Belgium (the second visit of the year so far) for a few days of punk rock and beer before we flew. We were headed for Groezrock Festival, our fourth visit to this punk rock mecca.

First, we spent the night in Brussels after taking the Eurostar. We ended up delayed by over an hour while leaving Euston due to an electrical fault, no big deal but we would much rather have spent the time in the Euston Tap! Eurostar hold themselves to very high standards, and a few days later we received an email offering us a free journey each in compensation for the delay. Very impressive and we will in all likelihood be using it to make our way to Groezrock next year! We arrived after dark in Brussels so all we ended up doing was grabbing some tasty Morrocan food at a nearby cafe and a few beers in the hostel to celebrate the beginning of this new chapter.

The following day, we took in some of the sights of Brussels which we hadn't seen previously. The highlight was definitely the Atomium, an amazing building based on the molecular structure of an atom, built for the 1958 World's Fair. Nine steel speres are connecting by lifts and escalators, and it was an interesting insight into a world on the bring of so many technical discoveries we now take for granted. High up on the to-do list was obviously something beer related, a visit to Cantillon Brewery. Read all about it on Liam's spin-off blog here!

After the brewery tour we dived into a particularly dodgy kebab shop to avoid a sudden heavy downpour, and it appeared to be the only place in Brussels that they didn't sell chips. Charlotte braved a kebab and we sat watching Turkish gameshows on the TV until the rain died down, trying to ignore the staring locals giving us funny looks.

All the while the two Marks and Joe had been flying over to join us, and we headed to the train station to meet them before getting on the heading straight for Leuven. We rued the fact that we had all forgotten to bring some 'train beers' but on arrival in Leuven it became apparently that there would be no shortage of the stuff.

Leuven is a student city and also the home to Stella Artois, now owned by AB InBev. They have 25% of the global beer market share and their worldwide headquarters are based here, as is the main Stella plant. The combination of these two factors make it a very beery place indeed. The market square is dubbed 'the longest bar in Europe' as it is a rectangular shape and is home to almost 50 bars and restaurants. We checked out a few places, had some awesome pasta and of course some tasty Belgian beers. We also drank Stella (zing!). Fuller hilariously ended up receiving a tonic instead of a De Koninck... I guess you had to be there. The night ended in a rock club which seemingly served as a pre-Groezrock party, and we skanked the night away to Rancid and what was to become the soundtrack of the weekend, Timebomb.

We stayed the night in the very pleasant, modern yet small Leuven City Hostel. Unfortunately the following day was the start of the Zythos Beer Festival, but alas Groezrock beckoned. But not before a few hangover-curing beers on the square while waiting for the rest of the gang to show up; Nik, Jimmy, Twibs and Kiera. The combination of lovely weather and free beer from a promotional horse and cart meant we set off to Groezrock a few hours later than intended, and got a few funny looks from commuters while passing around our wholly impractical train beer; 75cl champagne bottles of La Chouffe, giving us the air of high-class hobos along with our camping gear. One day we'll get the hang of train beers guys!

The next few hours were hell, and it was probably a good job we'd had a few beers to subdue the rising frustration. The train and bus trip were straight-forward enough, not too crowded, and gave us a false impression that the festival was well organised and that getting in wouldn't be too painful. To get into the campsite we first had to exchange our camping tickets for wristbands. There were two kiosks doling out these wristbands, and when you bear in mind that the festival welcomes 30,000 people at least half of whom are camping, it doesn't take a genius to realise that this was going to be a long evening. After eventually getting the coveted wristbands, and despairing over the continental European method of queuing (i.e. a complete free-for-all) we finally got to the campsite and had to deal with 'The Rope'. For the uninitiated The Rope is a uniquely Beligan way of organising festival campsites, which to be fair is efficient in ensuring every last patch of ground is filled up but makes pitching a tent, especially a whole bunch of tents together, rather stressful. Basically there is a long line of people manning The Rope and every few minutes they take a step back to reveal a new patch of ground for people to scramble over. By this point it was also pitch-black and we'd been drinking for most of the day so to say it was a shambolic affair would be an understatement! But we eventually got settled in, cracked a few celebratory beers, briefly checked out the party marquee before crashing out early to rest up for the first day of the festival.

Day 1 came around and after rounding up Fuller we headed to see Mikey Erg on the Acoustic stage and bumped into some old friends we met the first year at Groezrock, Suzy and Sim. We then caught a couple of songs by the Copyrights before heading to what was one of the most anticipated sets of the day for a few of us, The Menzingers. They had a massive crowd for a lunchtime slot, they didn't disappoint and totally blew us away. A mix of shouty, fast songs and well-crafted slower songs with haunting vocals, On The Impossible Past has to be one of my favourite albums of the year. Ava House was definitely the highlight of their set for me, a slow-burning drum-heavy song. In the afternoon we watched Belvedere (reunion of the day, never thought I'd get to see Fast Forward Eats The Tape live) and Off With Their Heads (packed out third stage, never seen so many crowdsurfers!). After this it gets a little hazy but looking back at the line-up I shall assume that we saw Bouncing Souls, Yellowcard and possibly Face to Face, before getting down the pit for Lagwagon. I feel it would have been rude not to as they played the opening riff of May 16! Rancid headlined the night, a great end to the day and so many sing-a-longs. But honestly by that point it was past 1am and I was showing my age and was almost alseep on feet, maybe I can no longer hack all day festival shenanigans!
After such an epic first day, the second day's line-up was surprisingly even better. Make Do and Mend blew away the cobwebs at midday, another band I had been excited to see for the first time. MXPX was a blast from the past, and there was a bit of a 'passing of the torch' moment to the next generation as they got the singer from The Swellers up on stage to play bass. Motion City Soundtrack pulled out all the stops and were a lot more high-energy than the show we had seen them at recently, maybe on account of quite a different crowd (Manchester: mostly teenage girls, Groezrock: rowdy punkers) and they fired through a greatest hits set which we sadly had to leave early from to catch Cobra Skulls. A short, sharp set from them (when they left the stage they still had 10 minutes left!) saw them play songs from all 3 albums, despite the fact that only one original band member remains (admittedly they are only a 3-piece band). This gave us all the more time to get a good spot for Hot Water Music, it was happy moment to see them back playing together again, seamlessly moving between new and old material. Alkaline Trio were enjoyable as always and The Bronx brought the house down as only they know how. Next up something a bit more mellow, Dave Haus on the acoustic stage. Part of the recent wave of former punk band singers turned folky acoustic, he brought a bucket-load of passion and good cheer to the evening. The sun was shining and we enjoyed a few beers out in the sun before catching The Swellers on the tiny Macbeth stage. This was a perfect moment; sun shining, Swellers rocking and Jagermeister stall next to the stage. Then back to Acoustic stage for Chuck Ragan, playing his heart out as only he can. Refused were the headliners for the night, and much anticipated ones at that. They broke up after releasing arguably the most influential hardcore album of a generation 14 years ago, and every year there are always rumours/wishful thinking that they would get back together and play Groezrock. It was almost as if time had stood still, and they blazed through the set as if the last decade hadn't happened. New Noise brought the house down and the whole set was a brilliant end to the weekend. A dream come true for the entire crowd.

And with that the weekend was over, the usual depressing trudge out of a festival began and we made our way to Antwerp for one final night, before the rest went home and we headed to New Zealand. Needless to say we were all feeling rather delicate and sleep-deprived, so we didn't get up to much. Moules Frites were a must in the evening so we headed to a restaurant, proceeded to wait too long for a table, but eventually the food came and was good, although I'm not sure many of us felt much like eating! We had another morning together and wandered down by the river and around the old town. Antwerp is still one of my favourite cities, it's a perfect mix of historical and modern, accessible, by the river, multi-cultural and of course the icing on the cake: great beer. After waving the guys off Charlotte and I had a rather nice lunch in De Foyer, above a theatre in a beautiful dome-roofed room. We had some lovely roast vegetable tarts, and I took the opportunity to have one last European beer, I can't resist Pilsner Urquell on draft. Beats Jupiler any day!

After that we were back at the hostel, printing off our boarding tickets and heading to the station to catch the train to Amsterdam. We spent a night in a hotel there, but as we arrived late in the afternoon we didn't get chance to do any exploring (other than getting lost in a distinctly dodgy suburb looking for the hotel). So all we can really confirm is that it is very easy to procure drugs in Amsterdam (not that we were looking!), despite it being broad daylight we were offered some within minutes of getting off the train!

The following morning we had an epic hotel breakfast and then headed to the airport, bound for Singapore!