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A couple years ago we watched the movie "In Bruges." It's a dark comedy that we liked very much and, although we're not big Colin Farrell fans, he was very good in it and actually won a Golden Globe award for his performance in this movie. After watching "In Bruges" we figured we'd like to go there sometime if the opportunity arose. So now we're here in Europe and last weekend the opportunity did indeed arise.
Before we left for Bruges (Dutch spelling is Brugge) we noticed that all our recent destinations, Bamberg, Berlin, Buchenwald, Bitburg, have all begun with B and this one is a double B; Bruges, Belgium. We'll probably have to break that trend on our next trip.
Anyway, Bruges (pronounced Brooj) is a wonderful city with a colorful history. In the 12th to 15th centuries it was the main commerical city of the entire world. During those years it grew to a population of 200,000, a huge city in those days. However, it's access to the North Sea became silted over and its economic role rapidly fell behind that of Antwerp. By the end of the 1800s its population had fallen to 50,000 and many considered it a dead city. The boom in international tourism has made Bruges a thriving city once again. Jeff and I were in Bruge last weekend on a mid-February Friday and Saturday. The streets were full of tourists. It's hard to imagine what Bruges must be like in the spring and summer.
Well we had a great time in Bruges!! Here's the stuff we did.
We drove into the city at noon and checked into our hotel which was a very short walk from the Markt, Bruges' main square. The most prominent feature in the entire city is the Belfry on the south side of the Markt. Since the Belfry plays a major role in the movie "In Bruges" that was the first picture we had to get. The Belfry was formerly a treasury. It stands 84 meters high and it takes 366 steps to get to the observation level.
On the opposite side of the Markt from the Belfry are these colorful buildings that now is a row of great restaurants. We were hungry and needed something to eat and drink before we started our afternoon activities. We ate in the far left building.
Jeff and I had some of the local faire to eat and a Belgium lager; Jupiler.
After eating we walked over to our first attraction but along the way we were inundated with chocolate. Belgium chocolate is world famous and Bruges has 72 chocolate stores in the old town. This store had a rather weird way to present their chocolate. Four pieces of chocolate in isolation. I suppose there's supposed to be some kind of symbolism here. Our interpretation was to go to the next store.
Well, yes it's strange but it must be a big seller because just about every chocolate store was selling some form of it.
Finally to our destination. De Halve Maan (Halve Moon)Brewery tour. Founded in 1856 it's the only brewery that still operates in the old town. At one time there were over 3000 breweries in Belgium. Today, just 173.
Brugse Zot is the top beer brewed at De Halve Maan. It's won highest honors at a number of world beer competitions. It is available in the US too. Of course, this free sample came with the tour.
After the brewery tour we had to check out a couple pubs that Jeff had read about. On the way we spotted this rather unique bicycle. Not surprising they came up with something like this since bikes are a major form of transportation in Belgium.
On our way we walked through the Markt again. The lights at dusk made for a very nice affect. Our little bit of art, no symbolism attached.
Almost to our first pub when Jeff made a sudden stop. It was like the culmination of a life long search, finally, the Beer Temple. Nice store.
First pub we were looking for, Rose Red. Wonder where they got the idea for the decorations?
We wanted to sample as many Trappist beers as possible while in Bruges. There are 171 Trappist monasteries in the world. Of those, only seven are brewerieis; six in Belgium and one in The Netherlands. To be an authentic Trappist beer it must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery under the control of Trappist monks and the profits must go to some type of assistance program. At the Rose Red we had La Trappe. Very good!
Our last stop of the evening was a place that was on the list of best pubs in Bruges and also best restaurants, Cambrinus. They advertise 400 available beers. Their menu was about two inches thick with a few pages of food and the rest a list of their beers.
Walking back to the hotel, past the Belfry at night. The Belfry is a 13th century bell tower that contains 48 bells that play various tunes throughout the day.
DAY 2. We had signed up for a Segway tour of the city. What great fun!!. The Segways were very easy and our tour guide was great too. They took our camera to take pictures for us during most of the tour since they didn't trust us driving their machine and simultaneously taking pictures.
Here's a couple pretty scenes in Bruges.
This is a housing development that was built in 1607. It was only for poor woman and children and some nuns. Men were not allowed inside the walls of this area because they were such notorious drunks back at this time that they were not to be trusted. (Things really haven't changed all that much. Haha!) These little houses are very small and inhabited even today. Originally, they had no toilets until three community outside stalls were built just to the right of us in this picture. Long walk for the folks at the far end.
Another little housing area for poor women. The building with the 1713 on it is the smallest church in Bruges. To the left of the church is one of the little homes. Woman who lived here had to promise to pray in the church twice a day. Seems like a fair trade for a free house.
This area is a convent. Twenty nuns, whose ages range from 55 to 92, still live here. Guess they need to get a new recruitment program. I thought these trees were interesting. Kind of obvious where the wind normally blows from.
This is Love Lake. It got it's name because this is where the proper ladies and gentlemen strolled during Bruges' golden era. Apparently strolling was all that happened along the shoreline and the surrounding woods, hence the name, Love Lake.
After the Segway tour we walked to some of the sightseeing highlights in Bruges. This statue, entitled Madonna and Child, located in the Church of Our Lady, was the only work by Michelangelo to have left Italy during his lifetime. It's a relatively small sculpture, only about four feet tall.
This is the Basilica of the Holy Blood. During the Second Crusade in the 1140s a returning knight brought back a vile of blood that was purported to be the blood of Jesus Christ. That relic of the Holy Blood is kept here.
We were lucky enough to be there when the relic of the Holy Blood was displayed. The vile of blood is layed on a display table and covered with thick plastic. People are allowed to place their hands on the plastic cover and say a pray or just look. The priest there watches over the people and cleans off the plastic after each person finishes their viewing.
OK, Jeff said that's enough sightseeing. So we walked to Café Vlissinghe, the oldest pub in Bruges, founded in 1515.
We were tired from all the sightseeing and the recuperative powers of the amber nectar came through once again. A nice Belgium lager, Vedett.
Inside Café Vlissinghe. Just a single square room about 20' x 20'. Big clear windows. Very cozy.
The heat in Café Vlissinghe was supplied by this old coal burning stove. It was cranking out some big time BTU's.
't Brugs Beertje was on our list of pubs to visit and what a great place. It was packed but the guys working here were so friendly.
We each had a different Trappist beer. Westmalle Tripel on the left and a Rochefort 8 on the right. Both have just over 8% alcohol content. Rochefort also makes a 6 and a 10. Both beers were great!
The last pub on our list was down this little cobble stoned alley. I'm standing here in the entrance to the alley. Luckily we found it on our first walk by.
About a 100' down the alley we found Staminee de Garre. It's a quirky, two story pub, both floors are small rooms with creaky wooden floors. We sat at a table with a British couple and had so much fun talking with them that we forgot the picture of our beer, Gulden Draak, Golden Dragon; a very dark beer with a surprisingly light taste. Tasty!
Well, we finished Day 2 with a nice meal and stopped in at the ice cream shop next to our hotel. The end of a great day.
Bruges was a wonderful experience. It is such a beautiful city that each time you turned a corner you just had to say "Wow" another amazing sight. We had one more day in Belgium which we would spend about an hour south of Bruges but that little adventure is for our next blog.