My only previous knowledge of Bruges involved an Irishman falling from a tower, a dwarf high on ketamine and a gangster shooting blindly in the town’s square. It was quite a sight, condensed into 85 minutes of a film which seemed to mainly feature Colin Farrell’s eyebrows. And although I’d already decided this wasn’t going to be a themed holiday, Mr F’s brows may have been sufficiently raised at the sight of t’Zand, one of Bruge’s greatest treasures.
The whole place has been dug up, presumably for major renovation. I’m sure it looked perfectly nice before, and with the sun rapidly setting and a windchill of about -7c, I wasn’t going to hang about for its completion.
The approach to Bruges’ historic centre isn’t too bad, once you’ve navigated out of the busy concrete railway station and crossed a dual carriageway. Immediately, life seems to slow down substantially. But the real treats are hidden by an inner collection of buildings which don’t tell the whole story of what’s to come. My hotel, for instance, is right next to a bus station which looks modern, large and horribly out of place. But after a short walk along some winding streets was the stunning Markt, complete with that tower.
The sky may look blue, but this was just after sunset – the full moon giving a clue as to why some of these pictures may be blurry – I could hardly feel my fingers. There’s only one thing to do in this situation : find a cold beer (in a warm bar). There are hundreds to explore – if you can find them. Because of Bruges’ historic status, corporate signs aren’t allowed. Even the local McDonalds had the outward appearance of an ancient Tea Shoppe.
And so to ‘t Brugs Beertje, described in my guidebook as “one of the great beer pubs. With now fewer than 300 varieties to try, I can’t argue with that. The service is excellent, the staff fluent in all of all the languages (English, Dutch and French – a night out here is like going to the Eurovision Song Contest) – and happy to recommend ever stringer brews once you’ve tried the lady’s tipple (a local beer starting at about 5%).
It’s a Monday evening, so a lot of places are quiet. Until the Americans turn up at ‘t Poatersgat (incidentally, I’m loving the northern preface to these place) – but in a good way. Casey and Sam are at college, and instead of joining their friends on Spring Break in Mexico, they’ve opted for something more cultural – visiting Belgium and France.
They’re playing darts, so I don’t bother with a question about Trump for fear of losing an eye. But they’re genuinely interested in Brexit, and exactly what it might mean for the UK. It surprised e a little, since (a) I’ve no idea what it means and (b) it puts paid to the notion that Americans are inward looking an ignorant about the rest of the world. Millennial (or at least some of them) do care.
The rest are getting beer and sex in Mexico.