Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Continuing the much delayed Belgium experience...

On Saturday morning, we took the train to Brugge for a quick two day trip before heading back to Australia. The train was just what you'd expect - prompt, affordable, relatively scenic, and quiet. We made it all the way to our next B&B dry, but the weather was threatening.

We spent most of our time meandering through town stopping to gawk at architecture, have coffee, enjoy a beer (including a Westvleteren), have a snack, but with no specific plan in mind.

Four shots from the Markt.

It's easy to just get yourself lost walking through town. Every time you turn a corner there is some other wonderful building or piece of artwork to look at. It's no wonder that so many people come up for weekends. Inside the ring road, it's like an entirely different world.

There were of course some signs of the modern world inside the fairy tale land. Translation: Blonde - Do Not Blame Me

Brugge at night.

We did manage to have some fairly Belgian food in Brugge. Despite having been caught in a rather heavy downpour, we stopped and had mussels in white wine and carbonade flamande. While probably somewhat touristy (as most things in Brugge are) they were both very good. And, by comparison to a lot of places, I think we got a good deal.

Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day (at least in the morning), but before we could get out in it, we had breakfast with our hostess, Maria. She was absolutely hilarious, and she makes a heck of a good omelet. She had a fantastic story, having lived all over Europe. We talked for nearly an hour, in at least the following languages: English, Flemish, Spanish, Italian, and German. She told us a lot about her life story, and didn't really pull any punches about the low points. But she seemed overall to be very happy, and love having visitors and getting to hear their stories, too. She was a wonderful hostess, and even prepared us a bag of food to take away the next day, as we had an early train.

We spent some time walking around the ring canal and found a number of cool bridges, gates into the city, and even windmills.

There were plenty of little details that are so typically European.

We meandered some more and found a couple more churches and got some nice views of the Belfry from afar.

We made our way to De Garre, as we were told they had an excellent house beer. They did. But finding it was pretty entertaining. We walked by it a couple times before we finally sorted out that it was down this alley.

Good thing we got there when we did, too. As promised, tables were impossible to come by about 10 minutes after we sat down. At 11 am.

After leaving, we were off for lunch. We had a place in mind that we read about that sold pancakes really cheaply. This seemed tasty. On the way, it started raining. Then the lightning started. And then it started to hail.

It came down for the better part of 40 minutes, and by the end, there was a good inch of hail on the road. It was actually really pretty - it looked sort of like snow. This is what was left after we had lunch.

Oh, and about that lunch. Pancakes seem to leave something behind in the translation. It was really a crepe house. But, it was awesome. The prices were fair, and I had a crepe that must have weighed a kilo. Plus, it was made out in the open, so you could watch. If you're in Brugge, make sure to eat at De Bretoen. You will not go away hungry.

Other fun facts. Here's Smedenpoort.

Here's the casting of the traitor who opened the gate to the French in the 15th century and was hung on the spot.

I do have some regrets about this little stop. If one stood at the gate and looked in, you saw the medieval town you'd been walking around. If you looked out, you saw what looked to be the much more modern part of Brugge. I think it would have been interesting to check this out and see what "real life" is like (at least for those that live outside the ring) but, as per normal, it started raining again. Hard.

Our travels took us back to the east part of the city based on a planned dinner stop. We decided to skip it after having a better look at the menu, but did wind up at Nieuw Museum where we had a couple beers and a really interesting conversation with the owner. We had originally been drawn in by what we thought was a fireplace, but was instead a huge open cooking pit. Lots of tasty looking dead animals were coming out. It's a family business (save the grill man - "he came with the place" and one of the young hands - "him? no, he is NOT my brother") and it seemed to be a local scene on a Sunday night. We thought the prices on food were a bit high, but if you were a local, paid in Euros, it would be fairly par, from what I can tell. I have slight regret not having dinner there.

Tragically, that brought our time in Brugge to a close. The next morning, we took the train back to the airport, and were on our way. I found it sort of crazy how many people commuted into Brussels. It's not a really long train ride, but I think it would get old back and forth every day. A number of people went to Gent, too, but that's only about 20 minutes. I'm guessing that outside of tourism, there isn't much work in Brugge.

In summary, I'm really glad we went to Brugge, but two days is probably the perfect amount of time. After that, I think I'd want to check out Gent and Antwerp.

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