Sunday, October 21, 2012

Day 7: In Bruges (Like a @#&*! Fairytale)

For those who have not seen the movie In Bruges, see it now.  I believe I mentioned it in a previous post.  We saw most of the spots from the movie, and the deck/courtyard of our hotel was featured in a chase scene.  Incidentally, like the movie, they were shooting another film around town on one of the days.  They often do this since the town is a throw-back to medieval Europe.  One street was covered with sand and we could see horses covered in heraldry waiting for their cues.

Church of The Blood

We began this auspicious day with a 10 AM walking tour of Bruges.  My words cannot properly describe such a city that is steeped in history, art, architecture and commerce.  I love Bruges, and want to go back already.  Every turn brings a new building covered with Gothic spires, ornate ironwork, marble statues.  Gargoyles peer down at you with stony glares and lewd expressions.  Bears (the symbol of the city,) Madonnas and saints adorn walls, building corners, and pedestals all over the city.  I took nearly 50 pictures of different doors and iron grates.  Enormous cathedrals drip with gold, incredible stained glass, intricate and overwhelming woodwork, and religious splendor.  Cobbled streets echo with footsteps and horse drawn carriages clatter past.  It really is a fairy tale city, especially in the morning before the crowds and cars really get rolling.  Shallow, but picturesque canals wind through the city, with tourist boats, ducks and huge white swans all zipping along them happily.

Can you say "Gothic?"

Our tour was very enlightening, but we perhaps spent too much time looking at marble and bronze statues.  There is one hideous modern art monstrosity that looks like a honeycombed car-wash set down in the center of all that ancient glory.  Yuck, what were they thinking?? We did get to go into the Church of the Blood: an extremely Gothic church that supposedly has a few drops of Jesus' blood brought back from the Crusades.  Yes this is an incredibly old city.  That place was beautiful and the painting of the walls, ceiling and pillars inside was very different from anything I've seen before.   For lunch I had more frites with mayo, and may start trying that at me a convert!

After our light lunch Sj and I decided to risk the bell tower.  This amazing structure literally towers over the center of the city, and has 366 steps.  For a fee you can walk up all 366 and get a great view of the city.  The steps are tiny and steep, getting progressively smaller and tighter the higher up you go.  Passing people on these stairs is near impossible, prompting you to crush up into a corner and hold on when folks need to pass you.  The enormous bells are run by a carillon.  Keep in mind I am not a fan of heights.  We made it, but were a bit winded after our climb.  Down in much easier.  And if you are overweight...don't attempt this climb!

This afternoon we wandered back to the Half Moon brewery that we had passed on our earlier tour.  We met up with Chris and Hassan for this and just missed the deadline for a tour of the brewery.  Somehow Hassan managed to pull some strings and they brought out a second tour guide for us and a few other English speakers who were around.  Initially the tour takes you into an active modern brewery.  Something I have not seen in a brewery like this was cut-out view ports in the mash tun and brew kettle.  We then went on a tour of this very old Maes brewery, that was mostly museum.  Fantastic old plate chillers, grain mills, crates, and cooperage equipment were strewn about with reckless abandon.  We actually walked atop the copper coolship to get to the rooftop, where we had an incredible view of the city.  The old brewery did their own malting and we got to see the old malt and grain equipment as well.  I could just imagine the steam rising from the huge chimney and very tiny Europeans trying to haul grain and barrels up those tiny stairs.  We actually had to walk backwards down two sets of stairs to get back to the basement where the old kilns were located.  There is no place for handicapped people in Belgium.  We saw two portable metal ramps our entire visit.

After the tour we got a full chalice of the Bruges Zot blond beer, that was hoppy and fruity and very very drinkable.  They also make a Zot brown that I didn't get to try.  The logo for these two have a drunk looking jester on them, very sweet!  They have a Tripel and a Quad that they brew under another label called Straffe Hendrik.  The Quad was decent, but lacked complexity.  Overall, a very interesting tour and a great view of Bruges.  Too bad I don't like heights!

Next up was a touristy boat tour of the canals.  We were crammed in there like sardines, but luckily the trip was short.  Some interesting views of the buildings from that angle, but we were moving a bit too fast to get good pics with my iPhone camera.  We did pretty close to running down some pissed off swans though.  They don't like tourists either.

After our slightly disappointing boat tour, I dragged our group to the tasting room for De Struise Brouwers, a local brewery that has been making world class craft beers for the last few years.  Their Imperial Stout (Black Albert) has been mentioned in the same breath as Surly Darkness and Dark Lord.  I'm not sure the Belgians quite know how to deal with these guys and their very American range of craft and extreme beers.  They had a cooler with three medicine-ball sized plastic containers lined with mylar that they were using as kegs.  Like boxed wine, only beers!  They had three experimental beers that didn't even have names yet:  A tasty and classic tripel; a wine barrel aged quad; and a bourbon barrel aged stout.  All were great.  We also split a bottle of Black Albert.  Wow that was really good!  I brought back a bottle of the Bourbon aged Black Albert and a bottle of Kabert (a collaboration with Portsmouth Brewery, maker of Kate The Great RIS.)  Oh for more space in my luggage!!


The very kind and tolerant purveyor of De Struise beers pointed us toward Cambrinus for dinner.  We met up with our whole party of 6 and made our way there.  When we first walked into the bar the hostess gave us one look and barked "NO!" Then turned away and left us to gape at her retreating back.  We milled about outside for a few minutes, trying to come up with a second plan.  Some space opened up at the bar and we decided to grab a beer at least and think about other dinner options.  Again, somehow Hassan managed to get us a big table in back.  I have no idea how this man manages to always make things work out in his favor, but I'll take it!  Despite the cranky hostess we had a very flavorful meal with a ton of great beers here.  I had the Carbonade, a traditional Flemish beef stew made with beer, and it was heavenly.  For desert a creme brulee made with Abbey style ale.  Boon Marriage Parfait Kriek and Geuze (the good sour ones not the overly sweet regular versions,) Westvleteren 8, and many more great beers.  So full.  Need to find an accessory stomach for next time...

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