From 1998 (new post): The first time I visited Poperinge, with previously unpublished photographs.

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Editor’s note: This weekend would have been the latest installment of the triennial Poperinge (Belgium) Beer and Hop Festival, but the pandemic postponed it, along with our trip. Consequently I’m living in the past and flooding the blog pages with reruns of past visits. 

As I’ve been saying for 23 years, Poperinge is an interesting place in its own right, as well as a great base of operations to explore numerous destinations of worth nearby, most of them accessible by bicycle. However, the first two times we arrived by bus v.v. the motorcoach beer tour packages I put together in 1998 and 1999.

My usual ON THE AVENUES column slot this week will be a summary of my experiences in Poperinge. The first was in 1998, when I learned that the tourist office in Poperinge was hip to the gradually escalating possibilities of beer tourism, and had a plan for tour buses. It included a local English-speaking guide who’d come on board; a brewery tour of the Van Eecke brewery in Watou (now called Leroy); beers at a traditional old-school café with an opportunity to play old-school tavern games; and admission to the Hop Museum.

The Van Eecke brewery tour was standard; I didn’t even take a photograph. However the Au Nouveau St.-Eloi tavern (“estaminet” in French; in Flemish, “kroeg,” or pub) was a standout choice. The attraction for foreigners was seeing the old pub games being played; another visitor to a different establishment took these notes:

We try a round of ‘baanbolling’, bowls played with balls in which the weight is unequally distributed. The skill is to throw the balls so they follow as straight a course as possible. A minor detail: the bowling lane itself is hollow. Hoefijzerwerpen – horseshoe throwing, shooting the ‘liggende wip’ which is a form of archery, ‘vliegende vogelpik’, a throwing game with a moving board. “Uitebolling” is another ball throwing game similar to “Shove ha’penny” in the UK or the Dutch ‘sjoelen’, in tonspel you try to get the puck in the hole, there are table skittles, throwing rings …

In 1998 we pulled up to find that there had been a recent fire at the tavern, with the whole operation moved to an adjacent building. These days the latter serves as the feestzaal (banquet room), while the damaged building has been completely rebuilt.

Note that Belgium ends and France begins quite literally on the other side of the country lane from the pub’s entrance.

The Hop Museum in Poperinge followed. I took only these photos during my first visit, and many more in 2014/2017 after a major refurbishment.

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