If everything goes according to plan, it shouldn’t take more than two hours to get from Brussels to Belgium’s Alvinne Craft Beer Festival. The festival, once known as the Pre-Zythos Festival, used to be held on a castle estate called Kasteel Der Lakebosschen in Oostkamp. To get there, one need only take a train from Brussels to Bruges, hop on the 21 bus to Ruddervoorde Leikendreef, and walk about 10 minutes.
It was said to be simple, easy, and stress-free. All of which proved untrue when my buddy Scott and I attempted the journey a few years back.
Scott and I both left the University of Tulsa for our semester abroad in Brussels. While we we’d barely been acquaintances before the trip, our mutual love of beer made us fast friends. Almost every Wednesday, after my French class and his Flemish class, we’d hop on the metro and go to one of the many storied beer bars around Brussels. In the middle of the March, Scott suggested we head to Pre-Zythos, a small gathering of microbreweries from around the world that was held every year before the much bigger Zythos Bierfestival.
Breweries from around the world would be present – De Struise, Alvinne, Thornbridge, De Molen and Urthel among them. While these all appealed to Scott and me, what truly compelled us to go was the presence of BrewDog and their obscene, 32 percent alcohol quadruple IPA dubbed “Tactical Nuclear Penguin.”
The first part of the trip — taking the train from Brussels to Bruges — went off without a hitch. It was the only part of the excursion that would have such success.
We boarded what we thought was the right bus. Being that I only spoke French (and you DO NOT speak French in the Flanders region of Belgium), Scott, armed only with a few months worth of beginner’s Flemish, asked the bus driver if we were on the correct line to get to the festival. She regarded us with an odd look, a mix of uncertainty and annoyance, then nodded.
The bus took us through the quaint town of Ruddervoorde, coming to a stop in what looked like the city center. The bus driver turned back to us and offered a noncommittal nod, which we took to mean, “this is your stop.”
We disembarked, and looked around. Before we left, Scott told me the festival was in an old castle. But we saw no castle. Just your average European small town with pastry shops and convenience stores and little houses. We wandered a little — hoping to find the festival hiding around some corner… but it wasn’t around the first corner, nor the second, nor any other corner in town.
“Scott, I’m not seeing any castles,” I said.
“Yeah, me neither,” he replied.
“So, this probably wasn’t our stop.”
“Yeah, I don’t think the bus driver actually knew what I was talking about when I mentioned the beer festival.”