After a relatively relaxing stint in Rouen, we hopped back on the train and headed for Belgium. The EU is so small and closeknit these days, tha tit only took a few hours even though we changed trains back in Paris, and we never even know when we crossed the border. We arrived late, but after putting our luggage in the hotel room (which was furnished almost like a preserved home from a hundred years ago, complete with washbasin!) We headed straight for Cambrinus- a bar/restaurant I’d read about that boasts over 400 different types of beer and serves only beer-related dishes. Jeonghee had a delicious beer-marinated steak, and I went for the tasting menu, with beer-battered cheese croquets, Belgian “beef stew” with succulent beef tips in a beer-based gravy, and even a creme brulee with singed beer crust, and we sampled several of the sneakily powerful brews on tap, including a taster of six local beers and a giant horn full of delicious Brugse Zot.
After that incredible meal, we waddled out to check out Bruges at night. We’d watched In Bruges before departing on our trip, and it was incredible walking through some of the same locations it had shot with such an otherworldly air of beauty and discovering what was real and what was a product of angles and stand-in locations. Grote Markt, the central square with its belltower, was much the same, and absolutely stunning, and if if anything walking along the lit-up canals and church spires was even more incredible than movie magic could render it.
The next day we headed out sightseeing in earnest. Our first stop in order to beat the crowds was the Basilica of the Holy Blood, the tiny chapel purportedly housing a vial of Christ’s blood also featured in the film. We were surprised to find out when we got there that the filming location for that scene was the Jerusalem Chapel (the one place we ended up not going to), but that the Basilica was a much more beautiful place in real life, with painted interiors that reminded me more of a Russian Orthodox Church than a Catholic one, and spectacular woodwork and ornamentation.
We headed back towards Grote Markt next, stopping in the Onze Lieve Vrouwerk Cathedral on the way and seeing one of Michelangelo’s few works outside Italy, the Madonna with Child, which is its centerpiece (and which was a plot point in another, worse movie- The Monuments Men) since renovations were underway, that’s basically all you could see besides some rather run of the mill paintings.
At Grote Markt we were held up with our only significant line of the day climbing to the top of the belltower, which plays music with its bells several times a day. The view is quite nice, and the stairs were as narrow as claimed…
After all that walking, refreshment was in order, so we went to the Beer Museum, complete with Ipods loaded with all kinds of interesting beer-related information, a display on all ten of the certified Trappist breweries in the world (Rochefort, Westmalle, St. Sixtus, Orval, Achel, La Trappe, Engleszell, St. Joseph’s, Toevlucht, and Chimay), and a small bar where your entrance ticket gets you three beer chips to spend on its large selection of beers and sour lambics on tap.
We had trouble locating our next stop, either because of the beer or our confusing map, but stumbled upon the perfect complement to our beer- the Friet Museum- a love letter to the potato (giving me some nice Peruvian memories- chuño!) and the French Fry, called Belgian Fry here as they were apparently the inventors of it. At the end of the tour, we ate some of the finest examples of the species, thick and twice-fried in Belgian style with a wide array of sauces that you don’t find anywhere else, including the spicy tomato, mayo, and pimiento-based Andalouse Sauce.
After finding my orientation mistake on the map, we crossed to the other side of town for our last couple of stops, the De Halve Maan brewery (yes, this trip was a beer-lover’s dream), where we had more fresh Brugse Zot (fresh and hoppy) and Staffe Hendrik (strong and dark) on the patio and had a nice conversation with an elderly Dutch couple who have a vacation home just over the border and some interesting stories about teaching and living in the Netherlands, and the Begijnhof Convent, which really is just a nice park enclosed by the convent’s buildings, which you can’t visit, except for the small unassuming chapel. Out front, though, there’s one of Bruge’s many beautiful canals brimming with geese and ducks, a pleasant final Bruges vista before heading for the train station.