Day 1: Saturday, 16 June 2012 – Travel and Brussels
We had a connecting flight from Amsterdam to Brussels) and as we landed in Amsterdam, I noted that it’s very flat. No mountains, but loads of canals. The flight to Brussels rattled my nerves even more as the weather was crap and the plane small. Nevertheless we landed safely at Brussels airport during lunch time and trying to find our luggage and the car rental place. What a freakout! The steering wheel is on the left side of the car and they drive on our ‘wrong’ side of the road! Poor Bryan managed to go into the wrong side of the highway a few times which provided for some scary entertainment.
We stayed in the small town just outside of Brussels, Overijse at Avalon Hotel. Overijse is about 15 minutes from the city centre and on the “platteland” between farms and vineyards, peaceful and quiet, and a great contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city. We joked beforehand about the hotel being the “Joseph Fritzl” house but to our surprise it was a cosy home with the most comfortable beds and heated floors (European Summer is like our autumn).
After unpacking and tasting some local beer we ventured into the closest small town, Neerijse and explored. We saw a lot of old buildings and we found that most of the shops (except the pubs) were closed. After chatting to some locals and having Kriek cherry beer, we decided to check out the Brussels nightlife. Note though that the sun only sets at around 22:30, a major adjustment for us and a major convenience if you are a tourist because your body feels compelled to keep going while the sun is still out.
We walked around Grand Place District where we saw Grand Place, an amazing old palace surrounded by a cathedral and what seemed like a building decorated in gold. Beforehand we went onto metaltravelguide.com to see what pubs are there in the vicinity that will play our type of music and after venturing into small streets and various chocolate shops , we found the place called “DNA” and had even more beers. When in Belgium, right?
Day 2: Sunday, 17 June 2012 – Brussels
The “Jubelpark”, War and Car museum was on our itinerary for today. After struggling to find a parking in the city, and being very paranoid about our rental car being towed away, we decided to just let it be and walked our way through the old buildings and architecture combined with splashes of modern technology. We walked through Marie Louise Square which had an amazing fountain and made our way to “Jubelpark/Parc du Cinquantenaire. This park was amazing, it was massive, extremely green and filled with loads of trees unlike the “parkies” we get here back home. The park featured many fountains, statues and museums. There was a small Rapunzel-like tower in the park. The centrepiece of the park was a triumphal arch and horseshoe-shaped arcade which marked Belgium’s independence in the 1800’s and sports statues symbolising each of Belgium’s regions.
Our first museum was The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History. Highlights include the sword displays, canons, the aviation hall and the tank wing. We also saw an old Nazi Swastika flag with blood stains. Creepy. Oh and there was some old drums too!
Next up was AutoWorld the vintage car museum. Our eyes were flooded with old cars. Highlights included the first fire engine (which was only a bicycle), the history of the electro car which was founded in the early 1900’s, a very intimidating looking Undertaker and chariots which made me feel like a princess in the Dark Ages.
We stopped at an Irish Pub, definitely the food highlight of our trip. I had their chicken curry, but I envied Bryan’s traditional bangers and mash. Back at the car, we found there was no clamp, and figured out that the parking is free on Sundays. Doh! We headed back to the Grand Place district for some more beer and exploring.
We spent a good amount of time in Delirium village which boasted the Guinness World Record for having the most varieties of beer on their combined menu, a total of 2004 beers! Each served with their own unique branded glass. I was very tempted to try the absinthe at the Floris Bar but decided against it as we still had a whole evening in front of us. Our group split, and we decided to find the legendary Mannekin Pis and Poeschenellenkelder. Mannekin Pis was pretty disappointing. I expected to see this huge statue of this baby taking a wee but in contrast it was just a small fountain. I do appreciate the history of it though. We couldn’t get a spot in Poeschenellenkelder, so we grouped up again and headed to the Rock Classics bar where we heard Tool being blasted as we entered, which made me feel super at ease and at home. We requested some Slayer, and I got even more amped know that in less than a week I will be seeing one of my favourite bands.
Day 3: Monday, 18 June 2012 – Brussels and Surrounds
Belgium is known for its castles so we decided to do some exploring in the surrounding Brussels area. Unfortunately both castles were closed to the public but we did manage to see these majestic buildings from the outside. Beersel Castle was the oldest castle in Belgium, first being mentioned in the 12th century. Gaasbeek Castle gave us more access as it has massive grounds surrounding the castle. It looked to me like a Harry Potter Castle, especially with a lion statue marking the front door. This castle dates back to the 1200’s. The castle grounds had 3 massive dams with a church, staff quarters, a big garden court and a “pleasure pavilion” on the side.
After driving around for most of the day, we retreated back to our hotel where we enjoyed some more beer, an afternoon nap and just took in the sunset before bedtime.
Day 4: Tuesday, 19 June 2012 – Travel and Amsterdam
We travelled to Amsterdam in about 2 hours. Having a fun time trying to figure out the speed limit on the highway (seems like the Flemish indicate everything by exception, “you are NOT in said town anymore, you are NOT in a 90km/h zone anymore”) and trying to figure out where is the border. The Netherlands is a flat country with very few mountains but lots of canals.
There is a park and ride facility just outside Amsterdam at the Ajax stadium. We parked and wondered around the station trying to figure out the “ride” part of it. Once we figured it out, it was swipe and off we go. Noted that the station isn’t dodge like here back home. It’s clean and seems like the most common way for people to travel, apart from cycling everywhere. We took the train to the station nearest to our hotel and walked for a further 1km until we reached Hotel Casa. The hotel was more of business hotel, modern and clinical with a much better shower but a lumpy bed.
We took the train to Amsterdam Central Station. I have to admit, my first impression was that this city isn’t as charming as Brussels but we missioned forth and soon discovered the red light district. It was mostly a blur of tourists, mainly English, coming to check out the “window displays” and smoke copious amounts of pot.
We walked passed the Medieval Torture Museum, a bunch of skew built buildings (were the builders that high when they built them?) and decided to dare the Sex Museum. Boy what an experience of Sex through the Ages. We were greeted by an elderly man with grey hair who explained to us which way to walk through the museum to have the best experience. The museum is filled with various phallus shaped objects, made from stone, bone, and glass dating back to the medieval days, erotic artwork of all kinds and photographs from the late 1800’s. Highlights included the 3 funny chairs position between 2 huge penis statues and while you are watching the TV screen, one seat starts moving! Old school pornographic photo exhibitions where they are doing some of the extremities we do too in today’s time, mannequins jumping out at you-doing oddly sexual things and the Bondage room.
Next up we went to a coffeeshop/cafe, The Grasshopper, which is quite famous for selling the green stuff legally. Not going to let you in on more on this one, all I can say it was pretty chilled.
Once again, the Metal Travel Guide we found online was helpful and we managed to find the coolest metal pub ever, called Cafe Excalibur. The place is situated in the red light district and is a real gem between the windows of girls advertising their bodies and theatres advertising live sex shows. The pub is decorated medieval style with a biker twist, suits of armour and skulls riding real Harley Davidson’s. Loved the barman who as soon as tourists ventured in, decided to play death metal to chase them away. After having some very good conversations and drinks, Bryan and I set off to catch the last train at 1am, walking the streets of Amsterdam back to the hotel in the greatest mood ever.
Day 5: Wednesday, 20 June 2012 – Amsterdam
We ventured into the Amsterdam CBD again, and decided to do a little shopping and explore the outside of the red light district. We probably walked a total of 10km as we got lost quite a few times. The rest of the city is definitely more cultured as we saw more old skew buildings, statues and beautiful canals passing the flower market. We strolled throughout the whole city, looking for a place to eat. We found that outside of the tourist district, the locals were not as friendly. After visiting Cafe Soundgarden (a punk pub), we headed back to the madness, trying to find our way into the Amsterdam Dungeon and Madame Tussuad’s but unfortunately queues were way too long. We had our first proper cup of coffee at the All Star Cafe, did I mention that the Europeans are super stingy with their milk and sugar, serving coffee in a cup almost as small as an espresso cup with only one sugar and a dash of coffee creamer?!
We went to Cafe Excalibur again to get our daily dose of metal and headed back to the hotel for an early night and to prepare ourselves for the hectic weekend ahead.
Day 6: Thursday, 21 June 2012 – Travel and Graspop
The early bird caught the worm and we left for Dessel with a hollow feeling in our stomachs as the weather forecast was storms, strong winds and rain. But as we were driving, we only noticed high level cloud and humid conditions. We got there at about 2pm, parked and did the trek to the entrance of the festival where we were greeted by an overwhelming sea of metalheads. The pure bliss of seeing so many of our kind gathering gave me goosebumps. There were extreme campers with all the gear one would need to actually live comfortably plus the same lot had wheelbarrows of beer and food. It seemed like so much effort, but we will soon learn how kak festival food really is.
We set up camp in the first block near the entrance of the festival with enough space to move and to come and go as we wish. After setting up we ventured into the festival grounds to buy Graspop Tokens (the currency for the festival) to find the only real negative of the festival. The credit card machines were not working and they were not sure whether it will work at all. Luckily the festival had buses from the festival grounds into Dessel town which ran every 30 minutes. Desperate for some cash and beer, we started hiking to town as we just missed the bus. Two Flemish ladies with a baby in the car was kind enough to give us rugged looking bunch a lift!
The evening they had a battle of the bands which featured 3 local bands and I was impressed with the attendance compared to our own battle of the bands that we have locally. About 4000 people filled the hall, watching the bands and just enjoying the music. It seems like the Europeans are not shy to show their passion for music. Another thing we immediately noticed was that people don’t give a shit about what metal sub-genre a band is, if they like the sound, they support. Period. This was even more evident in the days to come when you see festival goers patch jackets with bands from all metal genres: Slayer mixed with Behemoth, Manowar, Overkill, Cannibal Corpse etc. Also the average age at the festival was probably around the thirties. With too much excitement in my heart and head we tried to settle down in our small tent, trying to get rest for the awesome line up of bands that awaited us the next day.
Day 7: Friday, 22 June 2012 – Graspop
On the menu for today:
Skeleton Witch, our first band for the day. Got us in the mood for some serious metal.
Godsmack, I know my older sister loves them so I went to take a few pics just to show her I saw them.
Ensiferum, seems like folk metal is really big in Europe. I really enjoyed their show, very energetic and got us to headbang a little (I was saving myself for Slayer though).
Possessed, the fathers of death metal and the original “evil” band. It was great to be in the front of the crowd and to see where bands like Cannibal Corpse got their inspiration from. Their vocalist is in a wheel chair due to a shooting but he still managed to get the crowd going and headbang. It was a great performance and very nostalgic for some. The average age of the crowd watching them was prolly around the forties.
Sacred Reich, thrash metal band from the mid 80’s. I consider Graspop 2012 to be my education in thrash metal and this was the first of the bunch. I loved them as the music made me feel happy and amped because it’s fast and catchy. They played Surf Nicaragua and covered Black Sabbath’s War Pigs.
Devildriver, what a disappointment. I lasted about 2 songs as I couldn’t take the fact that this band was not as tight as I expected them to be.
Obituary. Some more death metal to put a smile on my face. We were again in the front and I managed to get some action shots. They played Slowly we Rot and a few other songs that I recognised. Even without a lead guitarist, the band impressed me with their heaviness, unique vocals and extreme silence between songs
SLAYER. An hour before they were due to start, we made our way to the front of stage (left) to see one of my favourite bands. Bryan warned me to be prepared to be crushed, which didn’t happen as they have this metal cross structure in front of the main stage that prevented just that. I was so excited to see my heroes less than 2 metres away from me, my mind was a ball of excitement. Gary Holt from Exodus stood in for Jeff Hanneman on lead guitar as his hand was still recovering from a spider bite. What a guitar God! They opened with World Painted Blood and something inside of me snapped and we headbanged throughout the whole song and most of their set whilst trying to help crowd surfers get to the front so the security can help them (thrash lesson 2: thou shall help fellow thrash metal heads to crowd surf). They also played Dead Skin Mask (I got a video clip of Kerry and Gary playing leads right next to each other), Mandatory Suicide, Angel of Death, Reign in Blood, and Chemical Warfare. Unfortunately I couldn’t see Dave Lombardo that well but just being in his presence was an honour. Tom Araya, just grinned between songs and takes the crowd in. This is definitely one of my favourite memories.
Lamb of God. After Slayer we were quite broken, speechless and quiet with admiration. We walked passed Lamb of God which sounded okay but dragged ourselves to the Beer Hall to recover not without stopping at the Pennywise show for some punk debauchery.
Ozzy. Ozzy is Ozzy, we watched from a distance and just processed the ultimate satisfaction we got from our first day at Graspop 2012.
Day 8: Saturday, 23 June 2012 – Graspop
Today’s line up:
Powerwolf. Close friends will tell you that I’m not really into power metal at all, but this German band might have swayed me a little. Their themes are darker than normal power metal and they wear corpse paint. The vocalist has a really amazing voice, hitting high notes and having the crowd sing along to almost every song.
Alestorm. Big mosh, big wall of death and some good ol’ pirate/folk/drinking metal.
Death Angel. Thrash lesson number 3. Most of these bands have been going for about 25 years and they play fast. Faster than today’s “whatever-core” bands. Death Angel was fucking brilliant. I know their latest offering has been talked about a lot and I finally got to hear why. They also played all the songs from their very first offering The Ultraviolence. The guys from Exodus joined them on stage during Kill as One, which got me energised and even more amped for Exodus. In the front again, we enjoyed this band to the max. Thrash-fucking-metal!
Eluveitie. More folk metal. We chilled outside of the Marquee, enjoying a little scarce sunshine and the sounds streaming out of the Marquee.
Exodus. Also waited right in the front an hour before. Our thrash lesson 4 (a lesson in violence) was about to start and people were already looking animalistic. That crush that didn’t happen in Slayer, sure as hell happened here! I hung onto Bryan for dear life as the crowd was moshing and headbanging, getting into the violent spirit while Rob Dukes (vocals) was edging the crowd on to become more insane! This band is THE most aggressive band I have ever seen and their passion, attitude and performance are too fucking great to describe. Also note that this band did their own soundcheck unlike other bands that have a whole lot of techs doing it for them. Very humbling.
Megadeth. After Exodus, Megadeth was a bit of an anti-climax. We watched half of their set, broken and sore from the chaos before. Mustaine is vain. (fuck he even makes me rhyme) This was particularly annoying. But at least I can say I got to see another one of the big 4. That memory of him singing Holy Wars will stick with me forever though.
Twisted Sister had the biggest crowd over the weekend. And every single person in the crowd sang We’re not gonna take it. Spine-chilling moments to see such unity within the metal community. Fucking legends.
Dimmu Borgir. Like Devildriver, I was a bit disappointed in the lack of tightness this band displayed. We watched about 3 songs and decided to move on.
Day 9: Sunday, 24 June 2012 – Graspop
Today’s line up was most rock, some from the 80’s. The heavier bands started later, so Bryan and I decided to head into town before our bodies rot from the processed and gross festival food. We went to this fancy little restaurant that advertised a Graspop Breakfast for 10 Euro (may seem like a lot but compared to what we paid at the festival, it was definitely not too much). Our taste buds were overjoyed when we saw the feast that the waiter brought out. Four rolls each, real meat, cheese, yoghurt, bacon and eggs, 2 coffee pots and 2 glasses of juice! We refuelled (for the day) and headed back to the festival to do some more shopping at the Metal Market.
Killswitch Engage. I used to really like this band while I was going through my teenage years but I realised I outgrew them plus the new vocalist wasn’t as good as their previous one, Howard Jones.
Machine Head They played their older songs off “The Burning Red” and “Burn my eyes”. A tight set (as was expected) and I was super stoked to see Rob Flynn in the flesh.
Behemoth. My highlight for the day. Even though a lot of people say this is black metal, I perceive this band quite differently. Apart from the corpse paint and burning objects on stage, this band is heavy, death metal heavy and proved to be extremely meticulous in delivering their performance.
Motorhead. Lemmy, the ‘ol Legend! Rock and Roll at its best. Perfect for some Sunday evening entertainment when your body has been abused the past 3 days.
Children of Bodom. We went only to see Mr Clean Cut himself, Alexi Laiho. Brilliant, living up to their reputation with a real life car wreck on stage.
Day 10: Monday, 25 June 2012 – Travel and home
On the Sunday it was pissing down with rain and we had to pack up camp. That meant we had left after the last band played and had to drive to the airport and try to sleep on the steel benches, real South African Style. Luckily baby wipes saved the day and we could at least freshen up, have some good Starbucks Coffee and be ready for our flight 5 hours later! Our connecting flight from Brussels to Amsterdam was running late, and I had to sprint easily about 800m (if not more) from one side of the airport to the other in a complete panic because the gate of our flight home was already closing. Going through security was quite a mission seeing that we had to take off most of our clothes and for some or other reason they believed we were dodge. What? Us with our metal shirts, docs and tired worn out faces? Never! Once we sorted out the confusion of seats, we settled, watched some movies and enjoyed the long flight home.