Wednesday 14th June & Thursday 15th June 2000
After all the travelling, beer drinking and football watching it was time for a bit of rest and recuperation in Brussels. We had two days off for good behaviour. The plan was to do the touristy thing. Chris got a respite from driving and we just explored the city. First stop was the Mannequin Pis, a small statue of a boy pissing with the inevitable water feature included. We then headed for our first bar as recommended by Nigel’s beer guide to Brussels. As you can imagine they day soon turned into a bit of a pub-crawl except for the visit to the beer museum… The Grand Place in the centre of Brussels is architecturally stunning but a bit of a tourist trap so we tended to try the less obvious bars down side streets. One of them happened to be the Lop Lop cafe which happened to have a beer menu with over one hundred different beers. We’d found our spiritual home…
I have to say that the pianist downstairs got on my nerves after a couple of hours murdering existing tunes or making it up as he went along, but the rest of the ambience was very convivial. The place was basic but the beer superb. We gradually worked our way through the menu sampling the many and varied Belgian beers which put any lagers in England to shame. Matt developed an obsession with a huge mural on the wall by the stairs once he had spotted there was an enormous penis belonging to a monster being put to use. Matt would then tell everyone who cared to listen about the aforementioned member again and again. Still he was happy.
The evening was spent watching the Belgium vs. Italy game in our friendly local bar which Matt, Chris and Bjorn had frequented whilst Chay and I had been in Charleroi. They had made friends with the owner (a recurring theme) and were keen to go back to sample watching the hosts in a local bar. Italy won two-nil but the reaction in the bar was muted, resigned shrugging and knowing glances. They had very low expectations and only their sweep stake generated any passion. The old bloke behind us had 2-0 to Italy and jumped out of his seat to celebrate the second goal which didn’t go down too well with his countrymen.
It had been a long day and some of us were flagging, but a couple of us ventured back into the centre of Brussels only to find ourselves in Rome instead. Brussels has a huge Italian population and they were out on the streets on the final whistle. Flags were waved, horns were hooted and before you knew it there was gridlock. People were hanging out of car windows, sitting on car roofs and chanting. Many fans gathered outside one church packing the steps and climbing the railings, the television cameras turned up and it was party time. The Italians celebrated until long in the night driving round and honking their horns maniacally, we just sat in a bar and watched the mad, mad world go by.
The following day was designated a “lets not drink so much day”. We were suffering a bit and decided to really do the touristy bit. We split up, I went with Bjorn and Chay out to Heysel to have a look round. We also went up the Atomium (a very silly collection of silver balls arranged like model of an atom) admired the view and bumped into the Darlington fan, the Preston fan and the Sunderland fan for the umpteenth time. Having first met in Bruges it was incredible how many times we’d bumped into them in Brussels. Walking down the street, outside bars, inside the Lop Lop cafe and now at the top of the Atomium. We were being stalked!
The evening saw us trying out the local seafood cuisine before you’ve guessed it, we found ourselves back at the Lop Lop, pianist, penis and all. We learnt that the Preston fan had bet £200 on the Gills to win the play-offs (brave man) we also learnt that he’d won over £2,500 on various £1-200 bets during the season, not to mention over £8,000 on the horses! Apparently he has a “system”. We also heard that the Darlington fan commuted back from his home in Munich for Darlington home games!?! Unfortunately he couldn’t make the midweek ones… As for the Sunderland fan, well he still turned into a gibbering wreck at the slightest mention of Tony Cascarino! Despite all our good intentions another planned “early night” turned into a late one, although with very different results to what you’d find in England. The drinking culture is based around cafes and sitting around sipping strong beer. Very few local people we saw drank huge quantities and the pace of life was steady rather than spectacular. Time just slipped by and the next thing you knew it was two in the morning. Time for bed because we had a lot more travelling ahead of us…