A weekend in Bruges, it could write itself really. The usual elements will do; familiar tourist spots, beer and moules met frites, some quotes from Farrell & Co thrown in for good measure and you have your standard Bruges review. Well then; if it aint broke, don’t fix it.
Having left England in record breaking winds and pavement marauding trampolines, we slipped under the channel and up into a perfectly crisp and clear Belgium. Moving swiftly from the predominantly French speaking Brussels to the Flemish speaking Bruges didn’t help my usual struggles with the local lingo, although at least the multi lingual situation gave me a better chance of getting it right. I never quite know what to do when faced with a foreign language, whether to give it a go or just accept the inevitable that their English will be better than my attempt at their language, or indeed my English as well I suspect. Usually I’ll attempt the basics and they’ll smile politely before they respond in English, phew. However, on occasion my efforts will be convincing enough that I’ll get a volley of the native language sent back to me. The smug traveller in me quickly crumples here into an utter mess of confusion and embarrassment, before I sheepishly revert to English and point at stuff.
After preventing my girlfriend from eloping with the young, dashing and suspiciously helpful bus driver, we dumped our bags and hotfooted it straight up the imposing Belfry tower while the weather was clear. We’ve learnt all too well by now – if you want to go up something high and the weather is clear, go now. Nearly falling off the side of Table Mountain once in fog thicker than a whale omelette had taught us that. The remaining sights were ticked off as we negotiated our way through the cobbles, canals and horse crap – each gothic street more endearing than the next.
The Christmas markets, which we’d partly come for, were hit and miss. The glühwein and sausage fest lived up to expectations, the christmas decorations on offer did not. A nauseating array of kitsch filled the stalls; including some rancidly pink christmas goblins, various flashing santa hats (the hat flashes, not santa – probably) and a surprisingly large selection of decorative rocks and stones from around the world. We found two further christmas markets which weren’t a great deal better, unless you wanted some gentle festive whiplash from the bumper cars.
Think of Belgium and you (might) think of beer. Along with chocolates and swamping chips in mayonnaise, it’s a bit of a speciality of theirs – so we got stuck in. The excellent brewery tour at De Halve Maan was a good start, a mere €6 had us showed around the brewery by Norman Wisdom’s depressed Belgian sister, with a beer thrown in for good measure. We then found our way back to De Garre, a tiny bar we’d been recommended that was well hidden from the main square. The ‘sitting only’ policy in such a small bar, combined with a constant flow of local and tourist traffic meant seating was limited. So when a long haired hippyish looking fellow beckoned us to two spare seats at his table, the offer was quickly taken. The next few hours are a blur to be honest, De Garre’s house beer is a jaw-slackening 11% and the several hundred others on the menu aren’t far behind. Our table hosts were a delightfully eccentric couple from Norwich who had business, and more predominantly a keen interest, in both speciality Belgian beers as well as any local gossip within Bruges. An evening of scandalous rumours, more folk music and beer discussion than a CAMRA AGM and a lesson in Belgian politics followed, and within no time we were three sheets to the wind. We stumbled home through the silent streets and found slumber with ease.
A fleeting trip to Brussels was squeezed in on the way back, managing to watch some huge luminous blue erections light up the city hall, before made our way back to the swamped Eurostar station. It would seem that people actually turning up for the train they’d booked on had bamboozled the Eurostar staff, as our train was delayed due to ‘an influx of passengers to the station’. People turning up for their train? Imagine that!
We eventually eased our way out of Belgium and back to blighty – Bruges had been a delight. After all, as they say in the film, how’s a fairytale town not somebody’s f*cking thing?