Sunday, March 14, 2010

Fri 12 March - Sun 14 March: In Bruges

I couldn't really call this entry anything else could I? Spent the weekend there as part of my birthday treat. We thought we'd go a few weeks after my birthday to ensure it was warmer. It was, but only just. Still two jumpers, scarf and gloves weather. But, thankfully it stayed dry the whole weekend.

Bruges is the one real touristy place in Belgium. In fact, pretty much the only place people come to visit from the UK. And I heard British voices constantly, wherever we went. It was rather comforting and (stupidly) nostalgic to hear accents from the south or north of England. Think I even heard some Bristolian. The place itself is as beautiful and splendid as people make out, although not as magical or even fairytale like as I was expecting. My only previous knowledge or sighting of the place came from the film.

I think it's too clean, or too polished, basically too northern European, to be classified as being magical. It's often referred to as the 'Venice of the North' (as is Amsterdam. It's the canal thing), but it didn't really remind me of Venice at all. Felt very Flemish, which of course it is, and also somewhat Scandanavian, but there is a noticeable crossover in architecture and style between Flanders and Scandanavia. Venice is, well, Venice. Bruges lacked the smell or dirt or ruggedness or sounds of Venice. In my view, all of these things give a place character and realism. And I'm not sure there's anywhere in the world like Venice.

I think I was expecting Bruges' canals to be more noticeable but there aren't nearly as many as Venice, simply because it's not as big. It was a good time of year to go. Not really crowded at all, and all the tourist hot spots were often quite empty. Its size made it easy to wander around and get a very quick feel of the place. We'd decided in advance to avoid doing museums and galleries for once, and because C had a bad cold we kept popping in and out of caf├ęs, where I discovered that a 'lait russe' is the Belgian answer to a latte. Might have to be my coffee of choice here as I don't think I can manage another capuccino with whipped cream.

The B&B we stayed in was fabulous. The lounge looks like it could be a room in a museum, filled with paintings, books and antiques. In fact, the French actress who appeared in the film 'In Bruges' stayed in our room during the filming. Very chic looking with lots of golds and browns. The room, not the actress. She's merely a bit of a fox!

On the Friday, because we came across an Indian restaurant we felt like we had to eat there. Bit of a mistake. The portions were small, especially by Belgian standards, and I paid the ridiculous price of €19 for a lamb rogan josh. Without rice. Why oh why is Belgium so damn expensive?

On the Saturday we did a lot better and even discovered a vegetarian, yes that's vegetarian, restaurant where they served a set lunch of varying sizes. Great food, filling and reasonably priced. And very healthy too. There's only so much steak frites you can eat in your life.

We spent our last few hours in Bruges on a tour of its only functioning brewery. Naturally, the tour ends with a (complimentary) beer. They do produce a lot of beers do those Belgians. Several thousand in fact. Also tasted pommes frites from a friterie for the 3rd time. The one in Binche still wins.

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