Nick Brosnahan

Beer, Chocolate, Lace, and Frites

Belfry and Canal

Brugge, Belgium is by any measure very picturesque. What’s marvelous about it is that you can just walk down any street and you’ll have a world of things you could photograph. The problem is that there are also a huge number of tourists. Duh. It wasn’t as bad as Venice, but it was pretty thick.

Brugge was enthusiastically recommended by Jamie and Kathy Osborne (and their kids) and it has been on our list for quite a while now, so Anne and I packed up our kids and took the Thalys train from Gare du Nord up to Brugge. It’s a straight shot and a very quick ride. We stayed in the penthouse room at a very pretty little B&B near the city center run by a nice lady named Livia. Apart from the occasional head bonk (low ceilings), we loved it and hit the sack pretty much right away so we could get an early start the next morning.

The first thing we did, and perhaps the most important to do, was to take the canal tour. If you get there early enough, the tourists haven’t reached critical mass and it’s really quite pleasant. We were watching the boats later and by the time noon rolled around, it looked uncomfortable. There is also a horse-carriage tour, which looked really popular, but we didn’t end up doing it, probably because it didn’t seem very appealing to stand in line for a long time and then buzz by all the sights downwind of a sweaty horse.

We had a very nice lunch at the Duc de Bourgogne, which is right near where one of the boat tours sets off. I had a beer called Bruges Zot, which was excellent. We then tried to go climb the belfry, but by mid-afternoon, it was packed and the line was not moving at all. We ended up walking out to the lace-making demonstration, which is a small room filled with a bunch of little old ladies all making lace at lightning speed. I suppose it’s the one of the original RSI-inducing activities.

After that, we ended up wandering to the eastern side of Brugge over in the park with the windmills. These are really a lot of fun to see, especially when the grass is green and the sun is shining. We also got ice cream just so we could super-size the experience.

We had the world’s worst tourist dinner right on the Markt square at the Hotel Central. I don’t recommend it at all. The only thing that was good was the 50cl of beer I had in a long flute. The service was horrible, the food was terrible, and they wouldn’t let us sit inside to avoid the smokers when we asked to move. We should have just left.

Anne and I deposited the children at the B&B and went out again to take some pictures at night. The available subjects are plentiful, and I think I got some good ones, but I still feel like I could do with a night-photography training session. It’s too hit-and-miss for my taste. We ended up getting waffles as dessert from a restaurant and then calling it a night.

The second day, we got up later because of daylight savings time and went down for breakfast. It turns out that another two sets of couples had checked in and were joining for breakfast. Kellen and Kyra ate their way through several helpings of everything that was offered, and I had to keep them from hoovering up everything before the other people got some. It’s going to become a problem keeping the house stocked with food soon. I envision a day when I come home and one of them will be calmly eating a stick of butter.

We ended up going right after breakfast to climb the belfry and it was a much better experience. The view is spectacular and the carillon plays every quarter of an hour. At 11:00 am, there is a special concert done by a real person. It’s really pretty loud if you’re in the belfry when the bells are ringing, but it’s an awesome experience.

We tried to get to the chocolate museum, but ended up settling for going to something like four different chocolate shops to buy samples. We also stopped in to a lot of different shops selling lace.

On the art front, we did manage to see a Michelangelo sculpture at one of the churches, but the highlight of the museum circuit for me was the Frites Museum, where you get to see the history of the potato arriving in Europe and its subsequent rise to glory with the perfection of the Belgian frite.

Note that these should never have been called French fries. That was the mistake of some American GIs in the second world war, who mistook some French-speaking Belgians for French. We, of course, had to sample these frites in the special restaurant in the basement of the museum. They were delicious.

At the end of the day, we packed up and took the Thalys train back to Paris and let Kellen navigate us from Gare du Nord back to Metro Rome, which is not easy. It was a wonderful week-end getaway.