Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day 8 - In Bruges (See what I did there. . .there was a movie. . . and it was called In Bruges . . . and that’s where I’m staying today. . . so it has double meaning. . . . . Ooookkkkaaayy…)

After a brief stint without the internet (how did I make it?), we’re back with the Day 8 recap.  Today I said au revoir to Paris and hallo to Bruges, Belgium. 

Bruges is on the Northwest coast of Belgium and was a very big deal in medieval times, both as the most important cloth maker in Northern Europe and as a major seaport for trade between southern and northern Europe.  In the 1300’s it was as large a city as London, but in the 1500’s their economy collapsed and the harbor silted up and it became a backwater.  For centuries it just kind of stagnated and experienced no growth or construction which, as it turns out, was the best thing that could have happened to it today. 

The entire town of about 50,000 or so, and I mean the entire town, is nothing short of a walk back into time.  It is seriously about as picture postcard perfect as it gets.  No pavement, no fancy new houses; just street after street of cobblestone, canals, and chocolate (more on that in a minute).   They speak Dutch (which they refer to as Flemish) there so whereas we pronounce the town (broozh) the locals say (BROO-gah).  If you’re ever there I’d stick with Flemish.  They get a little uppity about French I hear.

So before I got there, I had to do my first inter-country train out of Paris.  Turns out it went really well.  I left out of Gard de Nord train station and after a brief stop in Brussels, the administrative seat of the European Union by the way, I made it to Bruges in two and a half hours.  I was in the city center, called the Markt within 5 minutes.  I’d like to say I did a lot of interesting and unusual things, but for the next 4 hours or so, all I did was just walk around and take pictures of the town. . . oh yeah and eat chocolate.

If I saw one chocolate shop, I saw 50 and that’s not even close to an exaggeration.  How this is not the fattest city in the world is beyond me.  At one point I saw four in a row on the same street. . .four!  And the next one was an ice cream place. 

I feel very strongly about the ridiculousness of the number of chocolate shops in this little town, so to emphasize my point, please bear with the following analogy that went through my head upon observing this (I swear I am not under the influence of anything other than whatever is in crème filled dark chocolate):

 My second senior year in college (everyone should have at least two) we started off the baseball season on fire, I mean like 17-4 or something, and were playing great, over our heads even.  Well, shortly after that we dropped 3 of 4 and found ourselves down by a few runs in the 5th or 6th inning to La Tech, who, honestly, we should have been beating from one foul pole to the other (Sorry Loupe’s, Fontenot; but these are the facts).   Well, our head coach gathered us all around at that point, very calmly looked all 25 of us in the eye, and simply said, “Boys, if we lose this game, we are going to run till you bleed”. . . and then he walked away.   That may have been the single greatest inspirational speech we had ever received, so we obviously came back and took the game and then proceeded to whip off like 7 in a row after that.

I think this is what happened to Bruges.  Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory had been on a hot streak for years, but then they started slipping.  Maybe an Oompa Loompa got caught peeing in the Chocolate River or a batch of Everlasting Gobstoppers only lasted for a year or something.  Whatever it was, Wonka got all the little guys together and basically gave them the following ultimatum.  “Boys, if we don’t convert this entire town into the chocolate juggernaut of the world, we are going to run till you bleed”.   And they did. . . three times over.

Here’s some of the shots from the day:

This is a shot of the French countryside on the train.  Some parts of it were unique like this but a lot of it looked similar to the States.

Want to get around Bruges?  Better get your bike out.  What’s interesting is Amsterdam is supposed to be even more so like this.

This is Burg Square, the historical origin of Bruges.  I think a lot of the town looks like those facades that buildings put up when they’re doing construction on the actual exterior of the structure only this isn’t some cardboard cover up.

This is the central square, the Markt.  The whole square looks like this.

Here is a typical display at one of your local chocolate shops in Bruges.  This one place I went to, The Chocolate Line, makes their chocolate right there.  It smelled so good when I walked in I about fell down.  No joke, one of the best scents I’ve ever smelt.

Chocolate Boobies:  If you didn’t think this would make it into the blog, you don’t know me very well. 

I could show you 20 pictures of stuff like this, but I'll only give you 3.  Here's one. . .

Here's the second. . .

And here's the third.  For an added bonus, I've thrown in the hot air balloon free of charge.

All in all it was a great day.  I picked a canal and just walked it for an hour or so.  Fellas, looking to woo your lady friend?  Take them to Bruges for a full day and two nights.  Not only will she be impressed by your selection of the nonstandard European city, but it’s cheap relative to the high brow places.  

There are bed and breakfasts everywhere.  Here’s what you do:  Rent two bikes and go for a tour of the counryside for a few hours in the morning.  Then come back and cruise the Markt.  Around  5 in the evening, pick a canal and just follow it for a couple of hours.  You will go from a ton of tourists in the middle of town to being the only people with 200 feet of yourselves.  Just remember, if this works, I expect a little compensation.

So  having said that, Bruges seems to be a great place for two people, but not so much for a 30 year dude traveling alone, so I decided to cut my trip short a day and head out to Amsterdam.  Glad I showed up, glad I bailed early.

For the evening I was strolling around looking for supper, when I cam across the group of folks at a cafe.  They spoke English!!  We ended up talking for a few minutes and they invited me to join them for some grub.  Turns out they are doing a semester of study abroad at Furman University in South Carolina.  Really great group of people and super nice.  They ended up inviting me to hang out for the rest of the evening.  Best night I've had on the trip so far.  Here's a shot of the whole group.

From left to right - Me, Rabdoslav (I'm sorry, I know I butchered that), Laura, Mary Catherine (MC), Autumn, Zach, Kyle

If any of yall read this, good luck with the rest of the trip.  Thanks again for the good times!

So in the morning I'm heading to Amsterdam for about 3 days.  I've already got 2 extra days from cutting Paris and Bruges short a day a piece.  I'm trying to figure out what to do with them.  I'm meeting my brother, Scott, in Munich on Saturday for Oktoberfest so if I sneak in another city, it might be Berlin.  I've decided to stop doing reservations (at least till I get burned) ahead of time.  If I find something or some people here in Holland to keep me around till Saturday, I might hang out.  I'll probably have a combo Day 9 and Day 10 come out for my next post due to some traveling time and whatnot.  Have a good one.

Later. . .