Wednesday, April 6, 2011

EuroTrip Day 7: Brugge

Day Seven (Thurs. July 16, 2009)

Today was the best day in Brussels. I think that's because we weren't in Brussels.

Angry Dan reared his ugly head this morning while we were trying to get ready to depart for Brugge (Bruges). He hadn't eaten breakfast yet and he had his little heart set on McDonalds (how exotic?). We had agreed to meet Reed (the other engineer) his wife Deanna, and Jeremy (Ashley 's) engineer boyfriend. Deanna and I were outnumbered. Anyway, we decided to meet at 11 in the Lobby to leave for Brugge. Reed had rented a car for the week and agreed to drive us all. Dan and I ran out of time to go to McDonalds and get back before 11 so Angry Dan started complaining and making various angry statements. He calmed down after we got a cinnamon raisin bun in the hotel cafe. The car ride to Brugge could not have been any more flawless. Not a single wrong turn, not one traffic jam, just pure 180 km/hour driving... and yes, we were getting passed.

We arrived in Brugge at the train station lot where the rate was 2.5 euro for a 24 hour period. The one cheap thing in Europe! Our day began as we walked around the streets of this ancient city. The cool thing about Brugge is that there are a series of canals that encircle the town, like a mini Venice. Brugge was once a capital trading port of Europe in the 1100's or so. The canals around the city connected to the English Channel and Mediterranean Sea, not to mention several local rivers that weaved through Belgium and other parts of Europe. In fact, Brugge was the main trading port for wool and textiles between England and the contiguous European nations. Around the late 1300's, the main canal connecting the city to the Channel filled up with silt. As my "Belgium and Luxembourg" book describes it: Brugges lay dormant for 500 years, practically a dead city. In the 19th century, it became a tourist destination, and today it is one of the most touristy cities in Europe. There are about 20,000 Brugge citizens, yet in the summer on any given day, 100,000 people or more will be invade the tiny little town.

When we found our way through the tiny cobblestone streets to the "Markt" or main square, we were not disappointed, more amazing baroque and Gothic style buildings that were guilds and churches dominated the skyline. It was in the Markt that we enjoyed lunch: more fries! This time, I told Dan as we were standing ready to order to ask for ketchup, not to say tomato. He said tomato. I chirped in "Toe-mAe-toe!" The guy at the booth answered back in perfect English with a slight German accent "I'm not stupid, I'm just with stupid" he said, pointing to his colleague on the frialator. He added a comment that he was only half-Belgian so only half stupid. Anyway, we ended up eating fries with BBQ sauce on them. Not stupid, just didn't know that Americans expected their ketchup to taste like ketchup, not BBQ sauce.

Yes, fries, 3 days in a row. I may be walking 8 miles a day, but I’m eating pure fat for lunch and drinking most of my dinner.

The next part of the day was under my general ownership, so I suggested that we all take a canal tour. It was a 30 minute ride through some of the prettiest settings I have seen, complete with commentary by the boat captain in French, English, Dutch and whatever the hell they speak in the Netherlands (Flemish, I think?). It was really quite beautiful and allowed us to see many different features of the city that we wouldn't have sought out on foot: like the English Convent or a hospital that has been operating for 800 years straight.

Dan (at this point returned to regular Dan levels of hostility) took over the next portion of the day by choosing to climb the bell tower and get a view of the city. For 4 Euros and a bucket of sweat, you could climb to the top of the bell tower: 366 steps. Some of the steepest and craziest stairs I've ever climbed, but absolutely worth every second. The view of the entire city was amazing! Being up with the gigantic bells I began to wonder how loud it would be to hear them go off while we were in the tower. Well I found out about 30 seconds later: EXTREMELY LOUD! Dan and I were the only people in our group who chose to climb the tower because we were the only people who qualified for the youth rate of 4 euros (another thing to love about Europe, technically you are a youth until you are 26!) Descending took longer as about 50 Asians were trying to climb up while we were going down. If they were any other race, it would not have worked out, too many feet on stairs that weren't wide enough at their widest point (Sorry Erv, but it's true).

Part 3 of the Brugge tale belonged to Reed as he wanted to visit the brewery in town. You would think I would want to pass on this, since two breweries two days in a row seems like a lot. However, this is not true. And the De Halve Mann (or Half-moon) Brewery was very, very different from Cantillion. Way more commercialized and created for the tourist. The beer is not actually brewed in the area that they took us through. However there was another Flemish, English, French speaking tour guide to show us through and she was pretty funny. The beer is made very differently as the place is modernized and produces hundreds of thousands of liters per month. Half moon Beers ferment in about 3 weeks as compared with Cantillion’s 3 years, but are not true "lambics" because the yeast is added in from a packet, it does not create itself. Naturally, the tour ended with a tasting. This time we were given one beer in a full glass. Cool thing about Belgian beers is that each has its own glass specifically designed to give the right aroma and pour for that specific beer. And in every pub, restaurant or cafe you will get your beer poured in the correct glass. The tour guide also commented that we should never complain about the head on a beer in Belgium, it's poured that way on purpose so that the person who drinks it has to wait until the beer settles perfectly in the glass.

Wine is pretty much ignored here.

After the waitress came over to ask us if we were staying for dinner, we knew we had been sitting a long time, so we started to leave. Jeremy joked that they weren't trying to get rid of us, they were just finally coming over to take our order. We walked back to the parking garage and found the car located in the apple section, K5. Each section is a fruit rather than a letter, and each floor has a different symbol. One was fruit, one was veggies and one was animals. If you think about it for a minute, it makes perfect sense in an area where people speak many different languages where the characters might not all be the same.

Trip back was flawless. Love the European roads, but I don't think I'm bold enough to drive on them... street lights on the side of the road, not in the middle, weird street signs that were impossible to figure out. Transformers allowed here, and not there? Or is that the symbol for highways? Anyway, Reed got us all back in one piece so we could enjoy the piece de resistance: dinner at Pizza Hut.

Pizza Hut in Europe is way more sophisticated than in the US for some reason, and Dan had wanted to go all week. Today, I was finally hungry enough to give in and agree. We had pizza with cheesy crust. The crust was disgusting and the rest of the pizza was pretty much as I expected it to be: like pizza hut pizza. But of course, there was beer involved, so I was able to tolerate the pizza. I also got a salad, but there is only one kind of dressing in Brussels, and I am fairly certain it’s just watered down mayonnaise.

We capped the evening with Reed and Deanna in the hotel bar drinking Stella and discussing home improvements (Reed and Deanna signed the sale agreement for their first house on the hood of their car in Connecticut as they hustled to the airport bound for Europe).

At 11 pm, Dan's Dad called from California. He is 9 hours behind, that’s pretty damn close to being literally half way around the world.

And now, everyone is caught up, Days 8 and 9 might not show up for a while as we will be leaving for Paris in the morning. The itinerary is packed, but I'm pretty much just glad to be leaving Brussels, hopefully the smells will stay here. Unfortunately, I found out that Paris has the lowest consumption of soap per capita in the entire world, so I kind of doubt it.

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