Master's Weekend in Belgium
A Bowyers' party of 33 set off to Brussels on Saturday April 30th for the Master's Weekend. We were whisked to Gare du Midi on the Eurostar and then, a little confusingly for some, to the centre of Brussels on an underground tram.
Later we gathered in the Club Room Bar of the Belga Queen Restaurant. This turned out to be a converted bank vault where through a half-metre-thick vault door and surrounded by walls of safety deposit boxes, we enjoyed the Master's champagne reception followed by a high-quality dinner in the magnificent old banking hall above.
The Sunday was spent on an enthralling tour of the battlefield at Waterloo. We followed the events of that day from the French start line at La Belle Alliance, and then on to the recently restored Chateau at Hougoumont, the scene of an epic British defense, where we had time to tour the site. After lunch at the new Wellington Cafe we moved to the center of Wellington's line and to the farm of La Haie-Sainte. Our final stop was the site of the lost sunken road that witnessed epic French cavalry charges and the final breaking of Napoleon's Old Guard. All of this was, uniquely, narrated by our fellow Bowyer Major General Andrew Sharpe. Andrew not only explained how the day unfolded but brought to life the heroism and dogged devotion to duty that characterized the leaders on both sides, and how their heroism, their vanities and their hubris had shaped the day.
Back in Brussels after a tiring day reliving the defeat of Napoleon, we dined at the excellent Belgian brasserie Le Taverne du Passage in the Galerie de la Reine.
The final day saw the sun shining on the cobbles and chocolate shops of the magnificent Grand'Place, where the Bowyers gathered for their private visit to the 1698 Maison des Brasseurs (Brewers' Hall) and the Museum of Belgium Brewers. The original trade guilds of Brussels were all abolished in the aftermath of the French Revolution, but today La Maison des Brasseurs is home to the modern Federation of Belgium Brewers - no small role for a country with 180 brewers producing 2,500 different beers - and it's the only trade still occupying its original guild building. A fascinating guided visit to the beer museum left the party reeling at least as much from their new-found insight into the art of brewing, including the differences between top fermentation and bottom fermentation, as from the samples on tap of the different types of beer.
We finished our most enjoyable weekend with a pub lunch at La Mort Subite before returning to Eurostar. We were reassured to discover that La Mort Subite (Sudden Death) was a reference to the original 1920s clientele needing to finish their lunchtime card games before returning to work, rather than any reflection on the food.
'Magritte Archer' cartoon reproduced by kind permission of PRIVATE EYE magazine/Charlie Hankin.
Photographs by Tony Kench, Simon Leach and Tom Ridley.