Yes, I said Colin Farrell. If you’ve seen the Irish gangster film “In Bruges” you’ll know what I’m talking about. Oh, and by the way, don’t use the French “Bruges.” Use the Dutch “Brugge” – unless you want to piss off the Dutch-speaking majority around these parts. The filmmakers either didn’t know this or, considering the derogatory comments made about the city by the characters in the film, clearly didn’t care!
So why Brugge? Why not Brugge? I mean, Paris is just sooo yesterday. Everyone goes to Paris. Brugge is smaller and more manageable, and so much cleaner. In fact, it’s one of the cleanest and tidiest places I’ve ever been. Only in Brugge would I run into some random woman from Texas whose name also happened to be Mitzi. Only in Brugge would the captain of our canal boat ask if Teddy needed a seat belt. Only in Brugge would we be given garlic bread by a couple from Oxford. You just can’t get this in Paris!
Okay, enough propaganda. The real reason we went to Brugge (and Belgium in general) was for the Kriek (cherry beer). Being an ignorant foreigner, I figured Kriek was Kriek. Was I ever wrong. There are many kinds of Kriek, and they vary in taste and quality. I have it on expert authority (a local) that the best Kriek is Lindemans or Liefmans, the latter of which Ted and I enjoyed tremendously at an authentic Belgian pub in Brugge (one of those hard-to-find places that wasn’t heaving with tourists).
As for those bats in the belfry I mentioned, I surely had a slew of them in my head that didn’t come from the Kriek. You see, I decided to undertake the arduous climb up to the top of the famous Belfry. I still can’t quite fathom why I had to pay eight euros – hell, they should’ve paid ME to climb up there. At least Ted was in a good mood. Mind you, he didn’t have to do the climbing; he left that to me.
All that schlepping around seeing the sights and trying to figure out maps with Dutch street names can make a person (and a bear) thirsty, and there’s only so much beer you can drink (even if it’s Kriek), especially when you’ve only just had breakfast, so I wisely carried a little water bottle around with me. Anyway, one lunchtime I bought a Belgian waffle from one of those shopfront windows, choosing to eat it while sitting along the ledge of a water sculpture that consisted of two horse heads, one of which had water coming from its mouth. By coincidence, this location happened to be where all the horse-drawn carriages started their journeys. I soon noticed that the drivers were using a bucket to collect water from the spewing horse-mouth in order to provide their horses with a refreshing drink. Noting the empty state of my water bottle, I found myself envying the horses and wondered if the water might be suitable for human and ursine consumption…
…When along came a trio of Italian tourists. They spent a moment contemplating the horse mouth, whereupon the more authoritative of the group took it upon herself to refill her empty water bottle. I sat anxiously by, waiting to see what would happen when she drank the water, indicating that I was most interested in the results of her venture. The signorina partook of her spoils and smiled encouragingly at me, giving the product her stamp of approval. I waited to see if anything would happen to her, such as violent convulsions or instant death. (Horses probably have heartier constitutions than Italians what with all that grass and hay they eat.) However, all was well and the trio moved off to other adventures, at which point I deemed it safe to fill my own bottle, though I got a really dirty look from one of the horses.
Did I mention that we went to the chapel known as Bloedbasiliek? It so happened we arrived right on time to receive a blessing from the priest over a scrap of cloth claimed to have some drops of Jesus’s blood on it. (Hey, everyone else was doing it!) This is the same chapel from “In Bruges” where one of the hit men goes up to the altar to touch the relic. In fact, I’m certain I saw a hit man go up to receive his own blessing after Teddy and I had ours – some Euro-gangster dressed in an expensive suit and wearing blue-tinted shades. All he needed was to carry a sign that said “I’m a dodgy European gangster” and he couldn’t have been more obvious. I won’t mention the Beware of Pickpockets signs posted all over the place. So much for being watched over by a higher power…
I should add that the minute it became known we were going to visit Belgium the invites came pouring in (not for me, but for Ted, whose social calendar was booked up before we’d even boarded the Eurostar!). First we met up with his mate Metteko in Brugge, where our happy group consumed plenty of Kriek (what else?), followed by plenty of Carbonnade (Flemish beef stew), all the while being serenaded by gypsy musicians from Slovakia, their lively rendition of a Russian ditty prompting the two bears to dance their paws off at the table.
The next afternoon in Brussels Ted met up with his mate Berthus for cake (and later, Kriek). It turned out that the waiter at the cafe was a big fan of the two furry gents and insisted on being photographed with them, afterward giving Ted a big paw shake (with yet another waiter getting into the act) as we left. I guess the first waiter was trying to make up for having told me en francais that they didn’t have any toilets and I should use my glass. It took me a few beats of forgotten high-school French to pick up on what he was saying, at which point I realised he was having a laugh. Or at least I think he was…
As for the Kriek, I’m going to check online for a supplier – one that will give me a bulk discount!
For a quick video tour of Brugge, click here!