Bruges Part Two: Going Around in a Boat

This is the second part of my double post about my recent trip to Bruges. You can read the first part about culture and fun in the Belgian town by following this link. I’ve already written about some of the sights to see on the streets of Bruges and it seems that every single street and footpath is made from cobblestone. There are few cars on the streets, though the occasional taxi or police car passes through now and then. There are a lot of bicycles and the cyclists tend to travel at faster speeds than the cars. Horse drawn carriages are another way of seeing the town, but we decided that going around in a boat while looking at stuff would be a far relaxing way to see Bruges. And it was. It was perfect weather to go cruising and there are many places where you can hop on a boat. There was a bit of a queue when we got there, but we didn’t have to wait too long to get on board. Each little craft fits about 30 people snugly and we took our place on the stern bench where we soon got talking to a couple of friendly Belgians

Our guide was a dapper chap from England who spoke the Queen’s English to perfection and, according to the Belgian mother and son, perfect Dutch as well. It was hard to hear what he was saying at times even though he was using a microphone. This could’ve been because he didn’t feel it was the done thing to raise his voice to compete with the boat’s engine. It didn’t really matter as we all quite enjoyed lazily drifting through the canals of Bruges on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It really is the best way to see the buildings without having to worry about tourists on foot, bicycles, horses or cars. The weather was lovely and we passed under many tiny bridges and encountered loads of other boats along the way. We were coming to the end of the trip when we saw some lucky souls sitting at a bar with a balcony looking onto the canal and decided that would be our next port of call when we reached dry land. We had built up quite a thirst at this stage and the four of us alighted from the sea vessel with thoughts of drinking vessels on our minds

I’m Not Even Pissed

As you can probably tell at this stage, I was pretty smitten by Bruges and its streets and buildings and canals and museums and the friendliness of the locals. I even got used to all the tourists and the horses and the cyclists and the church bells in the end. It’s not that difficult at all to strike a balance between culture and fun in this magical town and nothing summed up that balance more for me than the bars and the bottles and the beers of Bruges

Belgium is a small country, but it still has over 2000 beers. More than half of these are available in Bruges and, like the people who drink them, they come in all shapes and sizes. We also knew, and were very quickly reminded, that Belgian beer has a higher alcohol content than the beers we were used to back home. For our first few drinks, Thomas and I made the mistake of drinking pints. A combination of thirst, being on holidays and an empty stomach meant that these two beers went to our heads pretty quickly. We were both taken aback by how merry we got in such a short space of time, so we downsized to 33cl glasses after that and never looked back (though, in hindsight, we probably should have). You may be aware that Colin Farrell’s character in the film constantly refers to these smaller glasses as “gay beers,” but if we’d kept drinking pints in Bruges then we’d have been going home before midnight every night

We visited a few bars on our first night in town and the first of these was an Irish bar called The Druid’s Cellar which, as its name suggests, is pretty gothic and situated in a basement. It’s unbelievably dark down there and you might want to bring a torch if you visit it during the day. We had a pint glass of Brugse Zot there and this would become our drink of choice over the weekend. We then stumbled into the lively Eiermarkt area and plopped ourselves down at the first bar that grabbed our attention. Bar des Amis was a busy place last Friday night and Thomas and I sampled the two Leffe beers pictured above, as well as a few different ones before returning to the Brugse Zot. Marissa seemed to be enjoying her beers as much we did and Linda her cocktails and, worryingly, they both seemed to be handling them better that us as well

The next day, Saturday, we decided to check out the only active family run brewery in the centre of Bruges, which just happened to be very near the family run hotel in which we were staying. Not only that, but De Halve Maan (The Half Moon) is the one that brews Brugse Zot! The brewery has been run by successive members of the Maes family since 1856 and long may they run. Each tour lasts about 45 minutes and takes place on the hour from 11.00am until 5.00pm every Saturday and closes a little earlier the rest of the week. The tour is given in English, Dutch, French and German and we joined about 20 other English speakers and followed a witty and informative guide who took us around the nooks and crannies of the brewery. Climbing stairs and ducking under tiny doorways is a common theme in Bruges and it’s certainly worth it on this particular tour

Our guide told us how the ingredients of malts and hops were combined with the correctly heated water and cooled to produce the different types of beer. She also gave us a brief background of the Maes family before taking us up on to the roof of the brewery and the fine view it provides of the town. Her delivery was excellent throughout and, best of all, her words were coated in a delicious irony that emphasised many of the medicinal benefits of beer that I hadn’t even known about. In short, the tour of De Halve Maan brewery provided us with all the sights, smells and sounds of any authentic brewery with a hospitable host who made us feel very much at home. Of course, all that walking up and down steps and talk about beer meant that our other two senses needed satisfying and you can see me about to taste the prize that awaits at the end of the tour in the photo above. The tour only costs slightly more than the price of the beer and is definitely worth taking if you visit the town

On Saturday night, we watched the Dublin football team defeat their counterparts from Cork on the telly in a fine Irish bar called Delaney’s. It’s a big bar with entrances on two different streets and I’m sure many inexperienced drinkers would be fooled into thinking they’re two different pubs. We had a lovely late lunch there earlier in the day and the bangers and mash I had were delicious. A few hours and many beers later, the football match had ended and I was feeling a little queasy. We decided to take a stroll out of Delaney’s and onto the Burg square where there seemed to be some sort of outdoor festival going on. A loud rock band were playing to a large crowd on the main stage ahead, but we stopped just short of that where a group of stalls were selling food and drinks. Linda’s eyes lit up with delight when she saw a stall completely devoted to her favourite drink and the four of us joined her for a Mojito or two in celebration. More Mojitos followed, the band stopped playing and a bit of a disco took its place. The music was good, spirits were high and some dancing ensued for the next hour or so. I believe we went home after that and rested for our final full day in Bruges

Bitter Sweet Symphony

It was Sunday in Bruges and we decided to pop into a nice little bar we had spotted while out cruising. We walked along by the canal and easily found what we were looking for. It’s called The Beerwall and it’s surely one of the most intoxicating places in Bruges. All the photos in the collage above were taken there over the course of an enjoyable few hours spent sampling a range of beers of various strengths and tastes. You pass along a lengthy glass case as you walk down the walkway towards the bar. This wall most likely contains the majority of the beers to be found in Bruges and is certainly a sight to behold

There are three witty quotes about drinking on plaques above the wall from Thomas Jefferson, Plato and Homer Simpson. Thomas, Marissa and I each stood under one of these and I’ve included a couple of the quotes above. I’ve also included images of two of the more interestingly titled beverages. The bar inside was pretty small and looked more like a gift shop as loads of tourists checked it out. Only some of the bottles from the beer wall were available inside, but there were a few interesting ones on tap

Linda made a nice discovery in the bar, while the beer drinkers amongst us tried some of the stronger beers and I’ve included two of them in this photo. The one on the left is called Kwak and comes in a rather gimmicky test tube setup that could prove awkward if the drinker is tired and emotional. Its ABV is 8.4%, though you don’t really notice this until you get to the bottom. It’s tricky enough drinking from the 33cl glass and a more adventurous drinker beside me struggled with his 50cl glass

Many of the names of Belgian beers feature puns and the title of the middle one in the photo of the three beers is certainly used in a humorous way. Delirium Tremens takes its name from the latin term that has been applied to some of the negative symptoms of extreme alcohol withdrawal. This beer has an ABV of 8.5% and comes in a relatively conventional glass. It tastes like an ale and has a stronger aftertaste than some of the others. After these two stronger beers, we decided to return to the relative safety of the 6.0% Brugse Zot for the remainder of the night

We managed to find a seat out on the balcony by this time and were soon joined by a couple of Australians named Dale and Talon. They were staying in a hostel in Bruges on their way from Paris to Amsterdam in the middle of a two month trip around Europe. The two lads joined us for dinner and proved to be quite entertaining as they told us about what they’d been up to already, the highlight of which was running with the bulls in Pamplona! They had come to Bruges to chill out and we took them down to the Eiermarkt for some more relaxing beers

We made the mistake of going to an overpriced English sports bar where even the barman drank elsewhere because it was so quiet at his place and, presumably, a lot cheaper there as well. We crawled around the pubs here for the rest of the night, which was easy because they’re right next to each other. We finished up with Dale and Talon in a lively disco bar. The rest of the evening brought spilled beer, raised voices and blurred lines. We even got lost amongst the nooks and crannies about a hundred yards from the hotel and had to get a taxi home! I was somewhat worse for wear the next day, but made it back to Limerick safely thanks to Thomas and Linda. I really did have a fairytale time in Bruges and it was great to meet so many friendly faces and even better to spend it in such good company. Cheers!

Part One: Culture & Fun In Bruges