You can’ t talk about Bruge, and Belgium in general, without talking about beer. The first recorded beer was sold in 1861, but as soon as man figured out you could ferment stuff, they were doing it. From moonshine made from the enzymes in spit in the amazon jungle to Potato Vodka in Russia; if we can get a buzz from it, we’ll try it. The monks brewed the first beers in Belgium, not to get a buzz, but because the water was killing people. By boiling and fermenting, they were not dying but feeling pretty damn good. They were doing this from the 12 century on.
There are trappist beers and abbey beers in Belgium. The trappist originally were for monks only. The first Trappist Brewery was Westmalle. Nowadays, they can be made by monks, or for monks. Abbey beers just need to give the old head nod of recognition to them, but don’t need to be directly associated with them at all.
We stopped into Bourgogne des Flandres brewery. This brewery was first recorded brewing beer in 1765 thought the current location was from 1825. Most breweries now do Disney Land tours like Guinness or Smithwick’s, where you don’t actually see or smell any of the beer being made, but a multimedia presentation of the process. Hell, Smithwick’s doesn’t even brew the beer in the same county. This is a functioning brewery but they rely heavily on the multimedia too, explaining the process and letting you sample the different ingredients. After the tour you get to see the actual brewery working. The head brewer is there for any questions you might ask between adjusting temperatures and what not. Here they let their yeast grow in the open air, as opposed to a sealed container. Its a more natural process which the yeast thrive in.
What we enjoyed the most, besides the beer, was they added a little extra in for kids. Gophers have gotten loose in the brewery, and it was up to the kids to find them. They even had a beer barrel the kids could craw through. So when the parents are educating themselves on their favorite beverage, the kids are entertained too. And as a parent, I have learned, anything that keeps them happy for minute, keeps me happy.
The oldest brewery is De Halve Maan (Half Moon) brewery. This brewery was first recorded brewing beer in 1564, thought the current owners bought it in 1856. We did not get a chance to do a tour here, and ironically, I mixed up the two breweries. We did walk around and see the inside a bit. One other little fun note is this is the only brewery that is looking to pipe its beer two miles underground so that the large trucks wont damage the historic city.
There is a beer wall in the city that has every beer ever brewed in Belgium on it. It’s worth while to walk through here just to see all the different beers. They have a massive beer selection here too, so enjoy a beer looking at the canal and stop a moment to think of Colin Farrel jumping from the hotel window onto a canal boat. This is the same hotel used in the movie In Bruges.
After that we checked out a wonderful museum, the Groeninge Museum, with Flemish paintings. Quiet a few of these paintings were filled with torture and bloody religious iconography. We carried Skylar in the stroller over the lover’s bridge through a pack of Italian tourist, reminding them what their actions can produce. We checked out the St. Salvatorskathedral, with the gorgeous vaulted ceilings.
Copyright Michael Bencik 2018
Well, as often happens when you make fun of a bunch of tourist doing the tourist thing, it was our time to line up a board the boat. At least it was not raining, and it was not expensive at all. I highly recommend doing the canal ride, because it gives you a lovely and different perspective on the city. Plus it’s just really cool how so many buildings have been built into the canal. Again, the architecture is absolutely lovely. For lunch we ended up in really Christmassy old house, with huge plates of food. I got the Flemish Beef Stew, which came with a biggest heaping of chips I have ever seen. Yvonne got what we thought was a small chicken dish, but in the end looked like the whole chicken. I guess we should have ordered one dish; it was only lunch after all. Again, the food was delicious, though a little pricey. Over all I would say everything is expensive in Bruges. I looked into buying my beloved smurfs there, and the prices were astronomical, so I passed.
Well it was time for me to wander off and check out a museum that Yvonne had no interest in, the Torture Museum. Everything from the famous guillotine, Iron Maiden, and the Rack! I found this to be a great museum, explaining all the medieval styles of torture, and more importantly, the laws that allowed it too happen. This museum is not gratuitous violence at all, but deep and thoughtful example of why one should not torture. It went in to great detail about how so many people tortured don’t give honest answers, and how it just does not work.
You visit places like this in hopes that horrible things like this will stop. Similar to going to concentration camps in Poland and killing fields in Cambodia. It’s a thin line in society that makes normal people do horrible things. I highly recommend this, and it has nothing to do with the well-endowed male Chastity Belt either.
We decided a carriage ride around the city would be a wonderful way for Skylar to enjoy the city. It’s pricey for what it is, at 50 euros, and the drivers made it plain that they make their money off tips. Things like this annoy me because a tip is something that should be voluntary and because you really liked the tour, especially in Europe where tipping is not really expected. In addition, they take a 5 minute break in the middle of the half hour tour, to rest the horses. Why not rest the horses between trips. In the end though are driver was nice and we learned some and really enjoyed it. There is something magical about being driven around in a wagon over the cobblestone streets. Skylar on the other hand might have fallen asleep in the half hour ride.
One last stop was Herberg Vlissinghe, established in 1515. This is the oldest bar in Belgium, and one of the top 10 oldest bars in the world. The legend goes that Barogue painter Peter Ruebens painted a coin on the table and skipped out on his tab. This was a quiet pub down a small alley that was just brimming with character and history. I loved it. Skylar loved it too because we played a dice game with her there as we ate a cheese platter. The place is loaded with old photos and paintings about its colorful past.
In the end, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) from In Bruges sums it up best,“It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? “How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s fucking thing?”, “How can all those canals and bridges and cobbled streets and those churches, all that beautiful fucking fairytale stuff, how can that not be somebody’s fucking thing, eh?”