Beer In Bruges.

Day 41: Sunday November 20th, 2011

I stumbled up, had a banana and got on the train to Bruges. I also read the Flanders Today, which was as thrilling as it sounds. An innocuous start to one of the best days I’ve ever had.

Once in Bruges, it’s kind of a trick to find the hostel with the directions given. From the bus stop, me and a middle aged Canadian, ex-military man track it down together after a random couple we asked hand us a map of Bruges.

Today was Mariam and Mary Anne’s only day in Bruges with me, and they promised that we’d party, so we made it a goddamn day. The hostel featured a fantastic map with local inside tips, and we rocked it.

After I got lost a few times (Bruges is really confusing), I finally met up with them at the De Halve Maan Brewery, one of two local Brugian breweries. They chose this because they knew it would delight me. Aren’t they awesome?

The tour was nothing special, but featured an old Dutch lady that loved her beer. She explained that the reason Belgians serve their beer with a lot of foam is so that it enables you (the drinker) to talk to and get to know your beer, before you can enjoy it. Sounds like something Drundy would do. We also got a rooftop view of the city that was wonderful, and would’ve been better if we could’ve had our beers up there.

The brewery traditionally only brews two beers: a blond and a double or triple ale. After the tour we had the Brugse Zot, a blond that was crisp and refreshing with a hint of fruit and still 6% alcohol, and because When In Belgium, I ordered their newest creation, the Straffe Hendrick quadrupel that was 11% alcohol and may very well be my favorite beer I’ve ever had. It was delicious: a little sweet, rich, bitter, filling and dark, and really strong (after all, it was quadruple hopped).

Then, while Mariam climbed the biggest landmark of Bruges, the Belfry church belltower to get another view of the city, Mary Anne and I got fries, mine with some sort of spicy sauce recommended to me by the guy working the stand, Mary Anne doing the gross mayo thing. We both loved it. Later, I had my first European mussels experience, getting some hot mulled wine (like hot sangria) and a few fresh shells for a few euro in a bustling tent in a square.

We also did the tried and true tradition of visiting churches, seeing the holy blood of Jesus at the aptly named Basilica of the Holy Blood, and then “saw” Michelangelo’s madonna in Church of Our Lady (the only one of his statues moved from Italy while he was alive), but I’m pretty convinced we missed it due to the quantity of madonna’s and statues in the church, which is pretty sad on our parts.

From there we went to the Choco-Story, a pretty lame chocolate museum that tells you how it’s made, the history of it, and got some samples of chocolate that is made in a demonstration right in front of you (which was admittedly cool).

For dinner, we had trouble, because on Sunday (and Monday), a lot of restaurants and shops are shut down in Bruges. All of the recommended and cool looking places were not in the cards, so we ended up settling for a crappy restaurant. I got cow tongue and fries though, so there’s that.

Now night time, we explored the dark, winding back alleys of Bruges in my favorite pub crawl on my trip to this point. You can’t help but feel transformed by the romantic streets and canals of Bruges and delight in getting lost in them (except when you’re trying to find a specific bar). Bruges seemed way more charming to me in my beer haze than the canals of Amsterdam in my space cake haze. It didn’t hurt that I shared Bruges with two pretty gals who kissed me on the cheek in “kissing spots” throughout the city.

We started at the oldest pub in Bruges, the Cafe Vlissinghe, which was about as old-fashioned and off the beaten track as it gets, with a crackling fireplace, a few Dutch families, and felt like a cabin in the woods. I had the Staffe Hendrick double. So good.

Onto The Crash, a hard rock party place that felt out of place, and to confirm my suspicions, there was no one in it (though it was Sunday in November). I tried genever, a local variation of gin, and got the passion fruit flavor. It was a nice quick break from beer, and then I returned to trappist beers, with the Rochefort 12 (that’s how strong it was). This is where Mariam shot a short film of me describing Bruges. It can be seen on facebook.

We continued the barhopping to Brugs Beertje, a great spot, confirmed by the presence of our tour guide from the brewery and 300 Belgian beers. She didn’t recognize us. I GOT drunk with the gals, succumbing to all the strong beers of the day and blowing through money like Ryan at a strip club.

I have a vague recollection of getting delicious and horrible for you Flemish fast food, but I could be making that memory up.

I barely remember our somber and tear filled goodbyes and hugs and kisses. After only two nights together in Belgium (and an extra night and a beer in Ireland with MA), Mary Anne and Mariam cemented places in my heart forever for such a fun time, their invaluable advice and recommendations about travelling, their insights into Aussie culture, and their willingness to follow me and succumb to the delights of the map and of Bruges and Brussels. I really hope I get to see them again in Australia, Seattle, Europe, or wherever.

I hope I did that day justice.

Next: More Bruges, solo.

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