Day Seven: Bruges

I was most unsettled last night and I’m getting into a routine of waking at 4.30am and staying awake. I eventually got up at 7am and started to get ready for my big day ahead. At the train station, it cost €30 for a return ticket to Bruges and I made my way to platform 15 for the Oostende train. I had to do some research prior as to which platform and line I should get because at 7.45am there aren’t many people around to assist.

Once on the train, it was a swift 1 hour ride to Bruges and then a 10 minute bus ride into the centre of town; Markt. What a breathtaking city; it was love at first sight. I found the central market square much more beautiful than I did in Brussels but perhaps that was due to less people being in the area. I sat on one of the benches and had my prepacked tomato, cheese and ham sandwich (that was soggy as I made it last night). I had arrived before most of the tourists and it was peaceful; besides the trucks unloading cartons of beer behind me for the restaurants.

After eating, our tour guide appeared and the five of us within the tour (myself, a couple from Switzerland and a couple from California USA) became good friends right from the beginning. After some introductions, our guide began to tell us the history of the Market Square. Traditionally, Bruges (Brugge) loosely translates into ‘Boat Stop’ as it was the end of the line for traveling merchants selling wool and food items. Bruges became quite affluent and as a way to signify their wealth, they built the belfry tower above the central marketplace and used it to store the cities money/documents in a chest behind metal bars. Due to Bruges being a swamp land, the belfry tower now leans 1 metre to the left!

We soon walked the cobblestone streets to the Sint-Salvatore’s Kathedraal. It was initially built in the 9th century but now has a Gothic appearance which is indicative of 14th century architecture. This cathedral is the second tallest cathedral made out of bricks and it took 200 years to complete. Attached to the cathedral is the Gruuthuse. Besides the government, this particular family that lived there were the most wealthy in Bruges as they made and sold beer using gruut, a type of flower and herb mixture that was used before hops were cultivated. Their house (more like mansion) was attached to the church so they didn’t have to walk around to get to mass every week and could sit in their private quarters instead.

At the end of the street, we went to the chocolate shop that even creates their own chocolate from the cacao beans as they directly source their produce from African cacao plantations. We learned about chocolate manufacturing before attempting to make our own truffles (more like just playing around with chocolate) before tasting a couple from their range. They were very tasty but I bought a few yesterday.

Our next stop was St Jans hospitaal that is now a museum of relics from medieval times. This particular hospital had beautiful gardens that grew herbs for medicinal purposes and had canals along its borders to make it a relaxing space for patients and families alike. One particular area of the building that runs along the canal has a curved tunnel that runs underneath the brickwork and was the entry point for people with the Black Plague so they don’t enter the normal hospital entrance and potentially spread the disease.

We kept walking along more beautful streets when we came to a section of the canal that had swans along the banks and a little bridge leading to a large entrance into Begijnhof. It was originally used as a Benedictine nunnery and a convent for ‘single women’ (single women didn’t have any rights prior to the 19th century) and it had its own gardens, church and brewery to allow the women to feel comfortable. To this day, there are still a handful of nuns that reside within the gated walls and the gates close at 6.30pm each night and open at 6.30am.

Within Bruges, there are two breweries that operate on site. One of the breweries is very small and had to have trucks deliver supplies daily which became quite tedious and annoying. In typical Bruges fashion, they built a 7km long pipeline that delivers beer to the brewery!

The other brewery was bought by a wealthy man and has enough space onsite to brew the beer and have a walk through museum. We each scored a full beer at the end of the trip. It was a combination of a stout and a blonde beer and was actually very sweet. It was not my favourite but after all the walking, it was well received. After the tour we went our separate ways and the the three of us (the lovely Californian couple and I) went to 2be, a touristy bar, gift shop, cellar door and home to the beer wall. The BeerWall is a shelved wall of 1600 beers and their corresponding glasses. It was incredible. I ended up purchasing a raspberry beer.

I walked back along some streets before finding the little caravan that is the only place in Bruges that sells fresh waffles from the batter. Apparently, the other stores sell them premade and just reheat them. This one was delicious and ended up being a late lunch!

Earlier in the day, I was informed about a particular beer that has been classified as the best beer in the world. This beer is made by monks at a location close to Bruges and to obtain a beer, you have to book an appointment months in advance and can only arrive at a specific time. On arrival to the monastery, you must provide your ID and car plate number before purchasing a slab of 24. The monastery only make a certain amount of beer to fund their living expenses despite worldwide popular demand. They only produced 60,000 cases per year and has remained the same since 1946. As I later found out, there is only one particular store in Bruges that sells it and as per Google, the shop was closed. In this case, I didn’t listen to Google and found the shop to be open and I happened to purchase 2 bottles for €19 whereas if I was able to purchase back in Australia, it could cost in excess of $100 per bottle.

I walked to the closest bus stopped and hopped on the first bus I saw that said STATION across the front. We were taken on a long route to one train station and then finally Bruges Station where I had two minutes to get up on to the platform and to board the train. It was very close but I made it in time and snoozed for half the ride. In my hotel room, I relaxed briefly before getting ready to meet the others for dinner. We were all coming in from different cities and we arrived at different times but finally at 8pm we were all in attendance and had beers flowing. For dinner I shared some crocquettes as an entree, had rabbit with Flemish jus and Frits for main and creme brûlée for dessert. I started off with a Van Gogh blonde beer and finished with a … Kwak. You had to drink the kwak whilst the glass was in the wooden holder as it had a rounded bottom. Shocking beer but worth the experience.

Only managed to get back to the hotel at 11.45pm as three of us detoured to Mannekan Pis, a water fountain of a boy peeing. It was very underwhelming and as one of my friends said, it’s just a glorified garden gnome.