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Because sometimes a picture and a few lines of text in Daily Deeds aren’t enough to tell the story.

Happy Beer-thday

The Three Towers of Ghent from St Michael's Bridge, the most photographed spot in the city
Before I get into the meat of the story, let me explain just a few things about how I travel. While traveling, I generally plan my entire schedule around people responding to my open requests on First off, what is Couchsurfing? It’s a way to meet people and feel at home anywhere in the world. Do you think that I’m exaggerating? I’ve spent Christmas with my hosts. I’ve joined them for family dinners. I’ve been warmly accepted by all of their friends, made to feel like one of the gang. I’ve spent weekends roaming around with them, learning all the things they love most about their hometown. They often leave me alone while they’re working and tell me to help myself to what I find in the fridge. I love Couchsurfing because it kickstarts friendships–you get right past the “should I trust you?” phase and straight into the “BFF” phase. It’s a beautiful thing.
Christmas in Ireland, leaving out some food for our host's deceased gran
As for the logistics, first off, it’s free. I hosted dozens of travelers when I lived in Colorado simply because I love making friends. Especially friends who actually have time for me, unlike the bulk of the people that I knew who were always busy with this or that. While it is free to stay with people, it’s an unspoken rule that you should find a way to give back. I always make dinner and bring some sort of tasty drink. When I have time, I also make them hemp necklaces out of shells and stones that I found on a beach in Alaska. As a host, I burned out when my guests weren’t giving back at all–after all, it costs a lot to always share your food and beers without getting the same in return. It’s important to keep your host happy so that they keep the giving cycle going.
Breakfast and a sweet note to start my day while in St Vith, Belgium
During most of this European trip, I’ve relied solely on open requests. How does this work? Well, normally on Couchsurfing, you look up the city that you want to visit and send individual, personalized requests to each of the hosts who interest you. I enjoy this process but I have two problems with it: 1.) I don’t know where I want to go next, so where do I even start???; and 2.) To thoroughly read each profile, write a personal request, and multiply that by 4, takes at least one hour if I type at maximum velocity. And that’s time I don’t have when I’m moving places every 1-2 days. All of my time is spent in transit, exploring, or getting to know my current host. I mean, I don’t even have time to blog regularly at this breakneck speed, yet alone send out individual requests.
Alternatively, you can send out open requests. I’ll write one request for the entire country which begins, “Do you want to play god? I hate making plans. If you invite me and my partner Kris to stay with you, you’ll not only be saving me the pain of making a decision, you’ll be changing the course of our whole trip. Playing with the lives of mere mortals like us.” Humor is important here, as in most areas of life. Open requests are a win win. I spend zero time researching cities, allowing myself to be delightfully surprised every day. I stay in places that I otherwise wouldn’t visit and meet people that I otherwise wouldn’t. And the people who invite me to stay with them always have time to spend with me since I let them set the schedule.

Now onto the story: Tim invited us to stay with him in Ghent because my open request mentioned that I wanted to visit as many breweries as possible. He had quite the proposition for me. So magical, in fact, that it made my eyes tear up. What could he possibly have said? Allow me to show you.

“This is your beer god speaking! I have heard your prayers for good beers and breweries, and I’m answering them! Even though only third in rank on the Belgian beer sampling competition, I am the highest in rank that also hosts couch surfers. Finishing entering my beer sampling notes from last year, I clocked in at 1838 beers sampled in 2015. <Cartman voice>Who wants to touch me. I said who wants to freaking touch me!!! </cartman voice>. (Man, I hope you get the reference, or this sounds really stupid. :p)

I shall grant you one brewery visit, IF you are able to meet my requests. The day of the visit is February 15th. It is the day that I turn 33, so I refuse to work on that day, as I always have done since my first employment. Instead I shall be driving towards… brace yourselves… Westvleteren! If you have not heard of the name, you google it right now. I said, now! I’ll wait…. There you go. Are you not impressed!? 🙂

Well, if you’re not, then you shall be if you learn that the main reason of our visit lays 4km further, through the fields, in Oostvleteren. What is in Oostvleteren, you wonder? Oh, I don’t know, only like the best, most innovative, inspiring brewery in Belgium, maybe? Struise Brouwers! (Yeah, yeah, I’ll wait while you Google that.) Here’s a little secret: in the list of 100 best beers in the world in 2015, they have no less than 5 entries! Boom – mic drop!”

You can tell Tim loves Westvleteren when he makes his home decor out of the bottles
The bar of De Plukker, fully decked-out with their organic hops hanging directly over the bar top
Drinking from the holy grail at the St Sixtus Cafe
Who would've thought that this modest exterior holds the best brewery in the world, Struise Brouwers?

The night that we arrived, he made grilled cheese sandwiches with Orval-soaked shrimp (served with Orval) and served us new beer after new beer while we both rated them on our respective beer-rating sites. This was already heavenly for me. But the next day was even better. At Brouwerij De Plukker, we were given sample after sample of beer while learning all about organic hop farming from a man whose family has been growing hops for generations. He tested our hop knowledge by serving us two beers with the same recipe but one had Cascade hops from the states and the other had his Cascade hops. (In case you’re wondering, I guessed correctly.) Next up was Westvleteren. All of the beer snobs out there will hate me for this, but I’ll just say it anyways—this was the least exciting brewery of the day. First off, we weren’t able to visit the brewery since it’s a monastery, just the café. Additionally, I’ve had Westvleteren 12 before when it was aged and it’s not nearly as good fresh. All in all, I just felt like a total tourist. The sacred experience was waiting in line for Tim to pick up his two crates of Westvleteren—even the sky itself opened up (and poured on us for just one minute) while we were waiting in line. The highlight of the day—and most of my month in Belgium, in fact—was Struise Brouwerij. Tim personally knows the owner and brewmaster, so we received the all-star treatment. He had nearly 20 beers on tap ranging from oak-aged sours to 39% ABV eisbocks. He’s as knowledgeable of a beermaster as they come and that’s evident in each and every one of his beers. In fact, this is my new favorite brewery. I didn’t want to ever leave—at least not until I tried all of the beers.

This is one of the joys of Couchsurfing. On this site, I’ve met the kindest, most generous people. And they actually want to get to know YOU. Yes, even you! And you. And you. And you. Never would I have experienced any of this if I stayed in hotels or even hostels—it takes locals for this sort of experience, not fellow travelers. Or, worse yet, if I didn’t travel at all. So if you haven’t tried Couchsurfing, give it a look. It’s my second favorite hobby—only second to brewery hunting/brewing. Thank you for inviting us to celebrate your beer-thday with you, Tim. It was a day that I’ll always remember. I’ll try bring you some beers that you haven’t tried before when I pass back through Belgium. Wish me luck on this hard task.
This was my expression most of the time at Struise.

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Hello friend, my name is Laura and I'm a caregiver in "early retirement," hitchhiking around the world. I made this blog to keep me on track of my goal, to give and ask for help everyday--and to inspire others to do the same. As the sort of person who used to refuse even the simplest of help, this is a trying task. But the rewards are greater than you could imagine. Click here to learn more or contact me at Laura.Shiley@Gmail.Com

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