Clouds, canals, and a 400 foot brick spire in Bruges.
Day 3: Up ridiculously early, to take the silly train to Brussels. I missed breakfast (and coffee - auggh!) because I underestimated packing time. It's chilly this morning - no shorts today.
The Eurostar train ride - 3 hours including 20 minutes in the Channel Tunnel (or Chunnel for short) - was a chance to catch up on sleep and to watch the English countryside speed by. Lots of sheep and rolling hills. Good thing they sold coffee on the train. Say "cheerio" to the United Kingdom, then "bonjour" for a few minutes in France, and finally "hallo" to Belgium.
In Brussels we met our Belgian Heidebloem (which means "heather" [here's their simple web site]) bus and driver Raymond, who would be with us all the way to Spain. We drove to the center of Brussels, the Grand Place, and saw the Manneken Pis (a cute little dressed-up statue of a boy urinating), which is the symbol of Brussels. Somehow he's supposed to represent defiance to potential conquerors. It just made me want to, you know, go.
[At some point, someone took a picture of me in the Grand Place.]
I had lunch with Evi and Elaine at a place that Elaine's doctor, who lived for a time in Brussels, recommended. The food was top-notch. I had celery soup, cod filet with dill cream sauce, and creme caramele. A lager to wash it down. The weather so far is holding despite gloomy forecasts of rain for days. The barometer in my watch still says it should be partly cloudy. We'll see...
It started raining on the way to Bruges as we drove by the 5th largest church in the world, but to cheer us up, Susan played a Belgian song. Here is a snippet of it. [And if you really like it, go to this web site for the lyrics.]
The rain stopped before we arrived in Bruges, which is a quaint canal-ridden village. I was rooming with Santos for these two nights in Bruges. No more single room for me. Dinner was at the hotel (Hotel Aarendshuis [web site]). We had a beef dish similar to beef bourguignon.
After dinner we spent a half-hour introducing our buddies, and then playing a name game designed to help us remember all 27 names. Everyone did really well. After dinner Susan and Lisa took volunteers to beer tasting in a local bar that had more than 200 varieties. Every beer had its own glass, which sounded really expensive to me. I had Kriek (cherry lambick), of course, and also sampled the local pilsner, called Bruges Blond.
Oh, by the way, my watch was predicting rain in the future. I retired about midnight.
[I penned the following that night. Perhaps I had had too much Kriek]
Are you starting a journey?
Shall you look ahead?
Do you want to see?
Do you need control?
The fog is thick and inviting.
You will find your way.
Day 4: Wonderful croissants at breakfast, fresh baked by the hotel proprietor, Danny, who ran in and out of the breakfast room, burning his hands on them as he refilled the bin. Our day's activities started well with a canal boat tour. A local guide with a very dry sense of humor took us around the "Venice of Northern Europe" (but unlike Venice it has car traffic). It was not raining, but was quite dark and foreboding. Susan pointed out to us statues of the Virgin Mary adorning the corners of city blocks.
After the tour, some of us broke out to see the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo in the nearby Church of Our Lady (which has the tallest brick spire in Belgium). Then we went to climb the belfry facing the Market Square to admire the view from above. Then the sky parted. Biblical rain. My REI durable-water-repellent coated anorak seemed to do okay to keep me dry, for the time being..
Luckily there was a great museum (the Groeninge) close by and we rushed into it. It had the so-called Flemish Primitives and other Belgian art pieces, and there was a very nice audio tour to go with it. [Here's a postcard of Hugo Van der Goes' The Death of the Virgin, in case you wanted to know what Flemish Primitives looked like.] The sun was out when we left the museum, although my watch still said rain.
We attempted to have lunch on a square at an outdoor cafe but it started sprinkling and we moved indoors. There wasn't a whole lot of ambience inside but the food made up for it. I had the fish pot which consisted of filets in two cream sauces in a bowl. More beer as well. The lunch attendees were Janet, Dick, Gary, and Leslie.
After lunch we crossed the square to a chocolate shop, and we stayed there for 30 minutes because cats and dogs started falling from the sky along with tremendous thunderclaps. Therefore there was nothing to do but buy chocolates - in Belgium. It was horrible. A little while after we ate the rain stopped. Perhaps some divine influence wanted me to have chocolate enough to make it rain.
Back to the hotel - no, wait - let's go see some windmills! Gary, Leslie, and I walked to the outskirts of town (miraculously dry) and saw the dramatic windmills against stormy skies.
More beer tasting at the hotel in Susan's humongous room, then we went out to dinner at a mussel restaurant, where Susan and I shared a big bowl of Mussels Straffe Hendrik (Straffe Hendrik, which translates to "Strong Henry," is the local beer brewed in town). Gary and I then attempted to guide the group to a fountain we had found earlier. It took a bit longer than it should have but we did eventually get there, just as the sun was going down. The fountain was surrounded by large bronze sculptures, and was something of a "story of life" in a very modern style.
To sleep at midnight.
Click the pictures for enlargements.
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Last updated 11/13/2005 . Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.