It is the beginning of another month (more or less) and thus time for another installment of the Ohmygod saga (to catch up on the previous installments click on the Ohmygod menu up top). As you will recall, I used to be a cycling tour guide in Europe for several years. Through that job (yes, it is a bit difficult to call it a “job”) I met countless interesting people and have a few compelling stories to tell, but most of them pale to the story of Ohmygod, one of the clients that I had for three weeks. Some may wonder about the moniker, but the name chose itself really; it is what I uttered repeatedly during just about every interaction with him.
In the previous installment (Part Fifty-Three), I was joined on the second half of the ride into Ghent by both Adonis and Ohmygod, a situation that I normally abhor given my inability to navigate (which, by the way, is an understatement). I am not entirely sure if it was actually a good thing, though, since just a few hundreds meters from our destination, Ohmygod managed to get both wheels of his bike stuck in one of the countless trolley tracks that crisscross the city. It was not that I was there to help the bike get freed from the track (the conductor of the oncoming trolley did that), but I was able to merely witness the spectacle which resulted in neither any harm to the bike (good thing) or to Ohmygod (um…).
Mounting our bikes again, we had just a few more blocks to go before we reached the hotel, which like many of the places where we stayed in Belgium, had a fascinating history. This one, the Hotel Monasterium PoortAckere, is on the site of a 13th Century Beguine compound, (Beguines were women that belonged to a lay religious order that lived a monastic life), that after being seized by the city following the French Revolution, was sold and rebuilt in the neo-gothic style of the late 19th century. It remained a monastery until after World War II when it was sold and then served successively as an orphanage, a house for young women, and then a student residence. Late in the 20th Century, it was sold again and was converted into a hotel and restaurant.
All Ohmygod cared about was that it also had a bar that only served beer.
Once we arrived at the hotel, as we were storing our bikes in the garage, I reminded Adonis and Ohmygod that they were on their own for dinner, as it was another of what the company referred to as “independent nights.” Since Ghent is a fairly large city, known for its university and night-life, there were plenty of restaurant options, but few that served particularly interesting or “authentic” food.
There was an exception, however, which is where I planned on having a nice quiet meal on my own, filled with people-watching and plenty of Belgian beer. The Eetkaffee De Lieve is located about 100 meters from the Gravensteen castle but feels like it is off the beaten path. I go there every time that I am in town and there are four constants: I am the only one there not speaking Flemish, the food is always good, everything on the menu is impossible to pronounce, and it takes forever to get served.
I don’t really mind, however, since the beers come out quickly (and often), and the house wine (both red and white) is stellar and fairly cheap. I usually opt for the Waterzooi, a sort of fish stew that is particular to Ghent, or Stoofvlees (also known as Carbonade Flemande), which is the Flemish answer to Beef Burgundy.
A perfect evening was ahead of me.
Yes, that is actually what I thought.
After a shower and a bit of paperwork, I headed downstairs to the hotel bar for a beer. It was not the brightest idea I had ever had, since if I ran into any of the clients on the trip, they would invariably ask me where I was having dinner forcing me to either lie or surrender my only “free” night of the trip. Yet, there I was, ordering a Rochefort 10, perhaps my favorite Trappist beer. Yes, I know that Westvleteren 12 gets most of the accolades from all of the “experts” but the Rochefort 10, with its thick, rich, and hearty style certainly encourages one to slow down and contemplate life (or at least ponder whether to have another).
Yes, I was risking my quiet, solo night, but there was something about having a Trappist ale in a former monastery that made tempting fate much less daunting. My beer arrived within seconds, accompanied by a small bowl of nuts, which I inhaled in a matter of moments, and the beer soon found the same fate. The bartender then made an inquiring glance and after my subtle but definitive nod, another bowl of nuts and a bottle of Rochefort 10 were quickly before me.
The nuts were salty and the beer was refreshing, so the first half of the second round of both disappeared fairly quickly. And then I made a crucial mistake: I relaxed a bit.
After a while of just sitting, enjoying the moment, chatting with the bartender, someone walked quickly past the fairly small door that linked the bar to the main corridor. I did not glance up in time to recognize who it was, but half of a second later I heard a distinctive “Hmmmph.” And a moment after that, I caught a whiff of the odor that trailed behind by a few seconds, confirming beyond any reasonable doubt that it had indeed been Ohmygod who had just sashayed past the bar.
I sat there for a moment both relieved and bewildered: relieved that he did not come in the bar, but puzzled as to why not. He is not a man of many talents, but being able to sniff out a beer or a bar, often from miles away, would be considered remarkable by most of the general population if he did nothing else but shower at least every third day.
My personal puzzlement did not persist, however, as maybe 15 seconds later Ohmygod stumbled into the bar. I say stumble since as he made the transition from hallway to bar, it appeared as though he tripped on the threshold–even though no such threshold existed.
He took one rather large step to compensate for the stumble, followed by two shorter steps to regain his equilibrium. He simultaneously turned to see what had caused his near tumble and was clearly puzzled as there was no clear culprit. Unfortunately, as he was looking back, he continued walking forward at a fairly brisk pace (no doubt on a mission to get a beer as quickly as possible), and just before he collided with my table, I grabbed both the bottle and my glass in anticipation of the probable. The half-eaten bowl of nuts, however, remained, entirely without protection.
The small white plastic bowl survived the initial impact of Ohmygod ramming into the edge of the table only losing a couple of the nuts that had remained in its care. Once he realized what was happening, however, his right hand extended to brace for a fall that it had experienced countless times prior. Eventually, the hand found the lip of that innocent white vessel and sent it spinning skyward, spewing what nuts remained throughout the tiny room.
Once he realized what he had just done, Ohmygod, now more or less balanced and with no apparent recognition of whose nuts he had just sent into the stratosphere, recoiled as if he had just come across an open fire or even a cobra, ready to strike. In his haste to back away from the scene of the crime, his left foot nicked the leg of the chair that had been rather neatly tucked in across from me. This caused him to once again stumble, only this time he could not recover as he fell to the floor in a heap.
He sat there motionless for a few moments as if he were trying to assess if he had caused any bodily harm. Apparently, he must have ascertained that was nothing out of place and he started to stand. Just before returning to fully erect, he bent over again and picked up several of the recently spilled nuts.
And proceeded to eat them.
It was at that moment that he first noticed me–at least I assume he saw me since he was looking right at me.
Then he belched.
He proceeded to the bar where he engaged the bartender in his all-too-familiar run-down of all the beers that were available. Fortunately for Ohmygod, but unfortunately for the bartender, the latter, like most people in Flanders, spoke English very well (although it could be debated whether Ohmygod spoke English, given his Canadian citizenship). Knowing that this would keep both occupied for some time, I happily returned to my Rochefort, albeit slightly dismayed about the up-turning of the bowl of nuts.
I should have quickly consumed the rest of my beer and skedaddled, but I figured I had a bit of time to relax. My plan was simple—finish my beer just a couple of minutes before Ohmygod received his, this would afford me a quick escape since he would be trained on the bartender like the most loyal of dogs waiting for his daily meal.
Moments before I was able to take my last sip, in walked Adonis and he immediately sat down at my table (the other choice was approaching the bartender, but seeing as he was occupied with Ohmygod, recounting the list of beer on draft for the umpteenth time…). Even before sitting, Adonis inquired as to my plans for the evening in a way that was blatantly obvious that he wanted me to ask him to join me. I didn’t take the bait—for a guy who is not lacking the slightest confidence when it comes to approaching women, he seems to be deathly afraid of spending any time alone.
As I was lying to Adonis, indicating that I was not quite sure what I wanted to do that evening, in walked Maggie. Her face lit up slightly when she saw Adonis and me at our table, but it was far from the infatuation that she didn’t bother to veil at the beginning of the week. Now, she seemed resigned to the fact that a romantic encounter with Adonis was likely out of the question. She glanced at the bar, quickly diverting her eyes as if she had looked directly into the sun or came across a half-consumed victim of roadkill.
And she sat down at our table.
Soon she was followed by Paul, then Brad, and finally, surprisingly, Angelina, who ended up sitting next to Brad (who was still sporting his daily dried mucus that formed under his right nostril) even though there were a couple of alternatives.
After some brief complaints about the day’s ride (coming into a big town is rarely easy by bike), the topic quickly turned to that evening’s meal. Despite my statements about the nature of the evening (i.e., they were to dine wherever they wanted and therefore so was I), they all indicated that they wanted to eat wherever I was going.
I lied and assured them that I had no plans whatsoever, and was likely just to get a quick snack and then toil away in my room, organizing the trip’s receipts. This, of course, was met with a fair share of consternation and cajoling to get me to join them for dinner. I was steadfast, however, insisting that I was woefully behind in my accounting (which was at least partially true) and that the just-then-finished Rochefort would be my only alcohol for the night (yes, I neglected to tell them that it was actually my second beer—a detail that they did not need to know).
At that point, after all had conceded that I would not be joining them that evening, Brad insisted that I allow him to at least buy me another beer. I decided to be magnanimous and let him do just that.
After this now third beer over the course of an hour, I rose from the table, trying desperately not to stumble and make a scene (I figured one a day was the maximum for such a tiny place). After an initial, yet practically imperceptible bobble, I made it out the door and up to my room.
There I stayed for the better part of an hour, actually doing some paperwork and flipping a few channels (I may have also dozed off for a few minutes—OK, several minutes, but that is not germane to this part of the story).
When I finally emerged from my self-imposed exile, there was no sign of any of the others, so I figured it was safe to venture to my favorite restaurant in town, just on the other side of the castle.
Gent is a fascinating town in many ways, but it is a minefield for someone as navigationally challenged as I. The streets and landmarks seem to have been haphazardly placed, with no rhyme nor reason. Thus, a normal ten-minute walk took me the better part of an hour to find the restaurant that I had visited at least four times prior.
When I got there, I was amazed. Not that the restaurant was over-run with customers, which was odd for a Monday night, but the fact that one of the outdoor tables was populated by all those whom I had left in the bar just a short time prior, including Ohmygod.
Thus I had two choices: duck and run or join them.