Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Trip Report: Brugge, Belgium

One of the local papers here was running a special: Two tickets on the Eurostar to any of six cities for £90. We hadn't heard of Brugge, and I'm not sure we even knew where Brugge is, but the description promised Venice-like canals with good beer and chocolate. Sign us up!


The trip itself. Alright, I'm sure a 6-plus-hour journey over four trains doesn't sound like fun to you, but it's really not that bad. We left last Thursday, taking the train from Cambridge to London (1 hour). Took the tube to London Waterloo (20 minutes) to arrive nearly two hours early for the Eurostar. No matter; plenty to do in Waterloo station. Then, 2 hours, 35 minutes from London to Brussels. Then another hour from Brussels to Brugge. We each had a backpack full of magazines and books. License to do nothing but read? Excellent! (Here are interesting factoids about the Eurostar trains themselves.)

Brugge: Brugge is an adorable town that was originally (like, from the 12th to the 15th century) a major trading town. Canals run throughout the city, and up until the 15th century, a canal connected the city with the sea. When that canal silted up, the town lost its prestige. Today, it's a well-preserved mideval town whose primary business is tourism. They speak Flemish there, which, I'm told, is the same as Dutch without the spitty hard Gs.

Beer. Before we went, I would have said, "oh, yeah, Belgian beer. Light wheat beers, good stuff." I had no idea.

The cream of the crop among Belgian beers are the Trappist ales, brewed by Trappist monks. Five of the six remaining Trappist monastaries are in Belgium. The beer is typically strong -- 6% or higher -- and the taste is soooo smooth. (I also found out that it has triple the calories of other beers, but I'm pretending not to know that.)

Also, see what else is in that picture? (Besides John, of course.) Big bowl of cheese. Gouda, specifically, of which there are also many more kinds than I knew about. Served with beer. Sooo good.

Waffles. There is an alarming lack of waffles in England. And also fluffy flapjacks. Trust me, we're stocked up on waffles now, and then some. The waffle we had from this stand was just sprinked with powdered sugar, and it was easily the best one we had all weekend.

A bicycle trip. Having our bikes in Cambridge has convinced us that cycling rocks. Conveniently, we live in a very flat place, and Brugge is very flat as well. Someday we'll be fit enough to cycle in hilly places, but if we never go to hilly places, it won't be a problem! (See previous notes re: beer and waffles.) Nevermind, though: We had a great time. The trip took us about 10 km north to the village of Damme. We rode along the canal most of the way. We could have kept going another 10 km and gone to Holland. Our cutie patootie tour guide says, "How do you know when you've reached Holland? They'll be a Dutch guy standing there in wooden shoes smoking a joint with his arm around a prostitute."

The Begijnhof. This is a convent of sorts, home to Benedictine nuns and 50 or so Beguine women -- women who have devoted their lives to God and taken the vows of fidelity and celibacy, but outside the formal order of nuns. The Beguinage was founded in 1249. We walked into the church in the complex, to find 10 or so nuns singing their recitations. (Anyone know what they would have been singing?) The combination of the peace of the Beguinage and the chants of the nuns made it a memorable place.

The Church of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk). When you visit old European cities, you see a lot of churches. This one happens to have Michelangelo's Madonna and Child in it. The statue is lovely. But that probably wasn't The Thing. The Thing with this church was that as soon as I walked into it, it wasn't so much that it took my breath away as it filled me with it. I felt a peace in this church like I've rarely experienced. I found the TripAdvisor entry while googling it to get the Flemish name, and one reviewer said something similar: He's been to grander churches -- Sacre Couer, Notre Dame -- but God so clearly lives in this church and touches those who enter. I agree.

'Sweet Caroline.' We were walking back to our B&B when we could hear music from the courtyard and the base of the bell tower. We stuck our heads in to discover this flag team performing to 'Sweet Caroline.' We were amused. At the end, they ran off the stage, and a bunch of kids in wooden shoes ran on and performed. Wouldn't be a trip to Flanders without some wooden shoe action!

It was a great weekend getaway. As per usual, there are dozens of photos here, including more detailed commentary. And look, we actually had someone else take a picture of us for once:

1 comment:

KTinDC said...

Hmm. Not sure why the video links aren't working. I'll work on that. Tomorrow. :)