Friday, 29 August 2014

Part 2 - All the B's: Belgium, Brussels, Brugge, beer...bwaffles...

After a mostly decent nights sleep (thanks to my sexy eye mask and ear plugs to drown out the snorers), we made a reasonably early start to find some breakfast and continue exploring Brugge. We rushed to the showers before they were taken by groggy late-rising-tourists (sidenote: got locked in the shower, actually. That was fun. Needed the assistance of a random stranger on the outside to push on the door so I could move the latch. Mildly distressing) and then set out in into the sunshine. Returning to the square, we inspected every place that did breakfast before returning to the first one we looked at (naturally). €8 for coffee, OJ, eggs and bacon, bread, croissant and a chocolate roll. I think yes. While consuming our breakfast, I looked at the large building next to us and said, “We’ve taken about a hundred photos of it, but what actually is it?” We decided to inspect once our breakfast was completed.

Turned out it was the belfry (which we had been wanting to find anyway) and that you could climb right to the top. We joined the queue like good little sheeple, and it started to get cold. Very cold. We inched along. We just got ourselves under cover when the rains came. And still we inched further along. Only 70 people were allowed up the tower at any one time and, as we discovered when we got closer, there was a turnstile letting people in as a batch of people came out. Very slow going. As we approached the front, there were moving boards describing the history of the place, with drawings of the belfry from as far back as the 14C. It was fascinating. We finally made it to the front of the line and I toyed with the idea of pretending to be under 26 to get a cheaper ticket (which has already inadvertedly worked previously) but the lady was checking ID’s and so my hopes of saving €2 were dashed.

When it came our turn, we powered through the turnstile and began our ascent up the 366 stairs. At first, easy. Every so often there was a room to stop, pause, have a look. Peek out the window. But as we got higher, the steps became thinner, the space became smaller, and the handrail became a rope by which to hold. If people were descending past you, it was a game of logic and tactics – who would let go? Maybe easier to rise a few steps to the landing and..ok, you can go past now. We continued up the steps, past the giant playlist (like a pianola, to play the tunes of the belfry), past the bell room, on and up. We finally made it to the top, and it was rather bitterly cold. We stood beneath the giant bells when suddenly – it must have been on the hour – they began to play. Booming, it was magical and very very loud.

The view was spectacular, if shrouded by wire to stop people from…falling out, I presume. We took photo after photo, squished up against the wire, lenses pointing through as we saw all of Brugge from up here. The little canals, the cathedrals, the green parks, the square below. By this stage the rain had passed and we were presented with a dramatic clouds and patches of bright blue sky. We took our Belfry Selfies (HASHTAG #belfryselfie) and began the descent. Here I ran into a slight dilemma with my fear of heights, as going up I had no problem – but descending the skinny, slippery steps, with only the rope to hold onto (and of course my shitty knees weren’t helping), I had to take it slow while Nicole and Cory powered ahead of me. We reached the bottom at last, and it was basically time for lunch.

The previous day, we had bought a ticket for the Brugge Friet Museum. Of course. Why not? Fries are delicious. So we made our way to the museum and wandered around, discovering the history of the humble chip. I learnt things such as “Eat as many potatoes as you want”, which is fantastic news seeing as that’s basically what I’ve existed on since arriving in London, and that potatoes are “definitely not fattening, considering they comprise 80% water, 0% fats and very few calories”. Thank you, Friet Museum, you have made me a very happy woman. We found our way to a children’s area that had a play kitchen, upon which Cory looked on (and photographed) in bemusement while Nicole and I wreaked havoc throwing fake plastic chips around and being deliciously puerile.

Chip Museum complete, we redeemed our fry voucher and thus lunch was sorted: for me, I went with the traditional mayo (although I stole some of Cory’s tomato sauce) for my frites. Of course I got a beer too, an interesting fruity concoction. What to do now? We would find the brewery, but first: Chocolate. We left the delicious smell of fries behind and thrust ourselves into that of chocolate. I want to point out here that Cory was the bringer of evil when it came to chocolate – he would disappear into a shop, upon which Nicole and I would follow, and then I would lose all sense of self due to the incredible smell that I wandered around, looking pained, wanting to spend all of my money. We found one store where the prices were very reasonable, and decided to start making our purchases. I could have spent a lot of money.

On our wander to the next port of call, with tour guide Nicole leading the way, we found ourselves walking through a cute market on the side of a canal. Here, Cory bought a packet of waffles and these were to be our first, albeit cold, but still delicious sugar-encrusted waffles.

Extremely pleased with ourselves, our next port of call was the Henri Maes Brouwery/Brouwerij/Brewery, the last remaining family owned brewery in Brugge for a brewery tour (included a free beer, woo!) arriving a la Nicole. Bought our ticket, bought a beer to pass the time (so I was mildly merry when we began the tour). Our tour guide was a sour looking elderly woman who inspected our tickets with disinterest as we piled into the first room. How looks can be deceiving. We had infront of us not only a wealth of knowledge, but a true, dry-humoured comedian. 

First we saw how the beer is made today, which was essentially 4 large containers. But the interesting part of the tour was heading up the original brewery building – which has been preserved – to see and learn how they used to make beer. At this stage I’m going to point out that, due to be slightly merry, I completely ignored her warning to “Watch the steps as they are close together” and instantly – on the first step – ran my shin directly into the metal edging. Pretending like nothing happened while my shin screamed at me, I continued climbing the stairs (it’s Thursday and I still have an egg on my shin).

"I do not like beer," says our guide, "I love it."

With her dry sense of humour and wonderful Belgian accent, she told us the history of brewing beer in Belgium, the temperatures, the cooling mechanisms, as we climbed up so high we were literally on the roof of the brewery. We then descended (backwards, down a tiny stair case might I add, doing nothing for my nerves). There are apparently over 1200 Belgian beers. The strongest being 14%, which she advised to only having one per day, because it will... "all of a sudden.....Punch! in the face."

We learnt that apparently hops is part of the marijuana family, which explains our laughing fit we had a little later...It was also here that she explained about the head on beer. The head gives you time to savour and consider your beer before drinking it. To form a relationship with it. Perhaps even to talk to your beer a little. But, as she put it, when it talks back to you, you need to be a bit careful... Once on the ground again, we gathered our free beer and grabbed a table. While we waited for the head to dissipate on our beers, we formed a strong bond with our respective beers, which can be seen here.

The next hour or so was basically spent crying with laughter over jokes that will make no sense in the retelling (we think it was the hops).

We gathered our wits enough to leave (of sorts) and we set off to find..something. Sorry Nicole, but I'm still iffy on what exa..Oh wait! We did find it. Those hops are still affecting me. We set off to find a garden (I can't find the name, I'm sorry Nicole) and walked  directly around it. Unphased, we tried again, and this time found our way in. It was a silent zone to respect those that had passed away. It was very beautiful, but soon our bellies were calling and it was time to move on.

Dinner tonight was at a pub and in my usual way jumped in balls and all. Enormous beer, 3 course meal. I was in a bit of pain before the end, but I soldiered on. The food was delicious, but there was one thing on all our minds: waffles.

Wafflewafflewafflewaffle

Nicole and I certainly did not need waffles at this point after our 3 course meal, but Cory had thoughtfully left space for his. No matter. Waffles were going to happen. We started the slow waddle back to the square to find some waffles. On the way, we went searching for the frog.

The frog. That stupid frog!

On a statue in the middle of Brugge somewhere, is a tiny little frog that if you kiss it or some such your Prince Charming will appear (and will carry your luggage for the rest of your life). We found said frog. Cory watched on in disapproval as Nicole lent to kiss the frog. Mwah. Figuring I was already there, I decided to give the frog a smooch. Sadly, no Price Charming magically appeared but I'm pretty sure both Nicole and I caught Hepatitis Alphabet from the sneaky pash. 

Frog done: waffles now.
Where to for waffles? This waffle place? That waffle place? OMG Do we go to the recommended one or just any of these? Nicole and I could barely stand so we let Cory lead the way, and we decided upon the one recommended in the booklet. And what can I say. Waffle (wafflewafflewaffle) with strawberries, chocolate sauce and icecream happened. Oh did they happen. Deliciousness later, a belly ache, sickness, and feeling desperately sorry for ourselves (but also overwhelmingly happy - what a contradiction!) we waddled and stumbled our way back to the hotel to, well, die, really.

Flopping down in the hostel chairs, we interacted as best we could past our enormous bellies with some Aussies and Canadians and then passed out.

***

This has ended up significantly longer than I intended so I am going to split it up even further! Sorry, I'm not sorry. Next entry will be last day and home.

xx

This time from inside the belfry

Frites! Fries! Chips! They are my kryptonite

#handheart the beer

Stahp it Bruges, you too pretty.

Pretty people in front of pretty Brugge

Kissing the stupid frog ;)

Sheer overwhelming excitement from my waffles.
I look completely mad.