Chapter 7: In Bruges, the Live Action Experience

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October 7th 2010
Published: October 11th 2010
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It has been an unfortunate eternity since I was last at an available computer to tap out our latest adventures. Right now, I am currently in Berlin, and I have yet to even write of Belgium, or our time in Amsterdam. So, let me get to that right away.

Author's note: A travel advisory was issued a couple days ago by the US Government, asking everyone out there to be careful in their travels, use common sense, and be especially cautious around high metro areas and in nice hotels. I would like to let everyone who is following us to know that we are taking every precaution in remaining safe and unharmed during this trip. I'm hoping to ease the possibly worried minds back home with this little blurb.

Anyway, last time I checked, we had narrowly escaped a French train strike, which we were apparently lucky to have done, as more than a few trains were cancelled that day. I'm much closer to believing that being crapped on by a flying rat is actually good luck at this point. The train from Paris to Brussels was short and sweet. Brussels first impression was not great. It was a grey day, which brought the exceedingly grey buildings. Perhaps we have just been spoiled by all of the lovely architecture of our other cities, but Brussels didn't really wow me at first. After a good amount of confused wandering around, we did eventually find our hostel and drop our gear off. The hostel was actually really nice! Nice beds, huge windows that made you feel like ripping them open, stepping out onto the ledge, and bursting into heartfelt song about how nice the day was (though the weather would inevitably crush that hope). The shower was also top notch, especially after trying to cram oneself into the shower of our Parisian hostel (I think a broom closet might have had more room...). The only major problem was that the room had nowhere to charge our electronic devices, and most of our powered gear was running dangerously low. With only two days stay, we ended up just dealing with it. Such is the life of a world traveler.

Much of the afternoon was spent walking around a mostly featureless, grey city. We did find a cool looking cathedral, and to be fair, while Brussels has never been hyped to me as a place of grandeur and wonder, there was a building here and there that caused me to turn my head and admire it. That evening we went down to the Plaza Grote (the Grand Plaza, I believe), for the traditional Brussels meal, mussels, frites, and beer. The food in Brussels is absolutely outstanding. We each got a pretty giant pot of mussels, in a variety of different flavors, with a good sized plate of frites and a hefty beer along side it. To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement. I have no idea what made it taste so good, but at the end of the day, it gave me a much better impression of Brussels. The night would only get more interesting too.

After dinner and a couple beers, we walked around this central area of town for a while, enjoying the scenery and looking for a bar that we had been told in every hostel to look for, Delirium. For its part, Delirium is not famous for no reason. Travelers from all over the world come to sample just a few of their over 2000 beers on tap. Beers from all over the world coexist side by side in barrels and kegs all over this hopping, 3 floor venue. We walked in and eventually found a small table to ourselves in the corner by the door. Truthfully, like a football game, or a midnight video game release, all the people who had planned for the long haul had been there for hours, and were far from relinquishing their prized booth or chair, so we settled for what we could find. And then the drinking started. It was slow at of us would buy the round, and whomever bought got to choose the beer, so we were drinking beers with exotic names, all above 9% alcohol by volume (an above average level for your average beer). With a good buzz going, we saw a large group of people at the adjacent table trying to take a group photo. A little drunk and ever helpful, I walked over to see if I could perhaps assist them in this endeavor, but, unexpectedly, I was pulled into the photo myself, now apparent family to our large group of drunk friends. Immediately following this, they asked us (maybe more like shouted at us) if we wanted to join efforts and make one large party of drinking buddies. Never one to shy away from making more drinking buddies, I agreed, and we joined tables. The big group, about 5 guys, 1 girl, and 4 more girls that came and went periodically, were travelling from Spain, and had also heard this bar was the place to be in Brussels. Their leader was a stout, large guy by the name of Hector. Hector had already had a good deal to drink, as had the entire group, by the time we joined forces. What followed was a very solid couple hours or drinking. Cries of 'SALUD!' could be heard echoing around the already loud bar, and free drinks, both given and received, were not unusual. I couldn't possibly describe the whole night, mostly because it is a haze of shouting Spaniards, unpronounceable beers, and outrageous stories. Tori did buy an entire boot of beer, which we all helped out with throughout the night. We met a number of interesting characters as well, including a dutch guy who was on his 3rd boot when we were leaving, and some irish guys who were practically speaking pike to us. And for some reason, a sharpie was passed around and used to mark whatever skin was out in the open with all sorts of invitations to men and women alike for many a devious act. Around 2 or 3 (I cannot recall), we headed home and passed out. That night was a party, without question, and we made some good friends to boot. Wherever they are now, I hope they are drinking one for us.

The next morning was not pleasant. It was this juncture, exceptionally hungover, that I learned I had lost all of my photos up until the end of Paris. It was a hard thing to take, and as such, I spent the morning lying face down on my bed, not really wanting to do anything. But, time stops for no man, and I was in Europe for gods sake, so I shelved my grief, went downtown, and got a chocolate covered Belguim waffle near the Manikin Pi, the most Belguim thing I could think to do. Jared and Tori had gone off to do sightseeing while I was laying in bed, and miraculously (or maybe not that much so) we found each other by the Manikin Pi. Together again, we went to go see the thing. And I'll be straight about this: I have no idea why this thing is famous. At all. It's this tiny statue of a boy peeing, and everyday he is wearing some new outfit devised by, heaven forbid, a committee somewhere in the shadows attempting to draw more tourist traffic. I feel like people should know less of the Manikin Pi, and more about the food, or Delirium. You want more people to come to Belgium? I would try the beer and food angle personally. After doing that, we decided to go to Brussels' only other notable attraction, the Atomium. The Atomium is, at best explanation, a huge building made to look like a molecule. With giant silver globes as rooms, connected by tubes (presumably chemical bonds of some name that I have forgotten from a chemistry class long ago), it is a behemoth structure, tower far overhead. For a better depiction, I'll add a picture. Now, it is an awesome looking attraction from the outside, and sporting Brussels' quintessential panorama view, we figured we'd pay the 11 euro fee to get in and see what was inside. This, however, proved to be exceptionally disappointing. The inside of the Atomium is, for some reason, an art gallery for contemporary artists who have managed, for all intents and purposes, to shoot for the high bar of mediocrity in their crafts. Single flowers held in unremarkable vases, chairs made of cardboard, white pieces of paper with shapes cut out of it. These were what we were to behold inside. Mind you, the entry fee to this gallery cost MORE THAN THE LOUVRE. So, for the benefit of all you out there who may yet go to Brussels, heed this warning. Do not pay to go inside the Atomium. I repeat: DO NOT go inside.

We went to the hostel for a nap. It was here that we met the worst roommate ever. In what I can only describe as a Goldilocks moment, I came back to find a large, middle eastern man sleeping in my bed. My stuff had been pushed to the floor, and the bed I had myself sheeted at great trouble, was now no longer mine. I was less than pleased about this turn of events, still tired from the previous night, but determined to be the bigger man (figuratively), I just took the other open bed for myself. After sheeting it again, the man woke up. Now, he was more irritating for, as I was attempting to pass out, he started talking on his phone, loudly, in Arabic. Though I couldn't call myself an expert on the language or how you'd speak it, it sounded a good deal like he was screaming death threats. Who knows. At some point between these two instances, he drank a good deal of the water out of my water bottle, and after he finished screaming at his mobile phone, he started praying to Mecca. And truthfully, I have no problem with this practice whatsoever, except that for his man's friend (who had come in at some point and was joining in the prayer) was doing his prayer silently while he was choosing to shout to Allah his love for him. Again, not what he was doing, just how he chose to do it. After all this, we did manage to get some sleep, and then we went out to the Plaza Grote for one more meal, we walked around, and went home. All in all, Brussels is a nice place, but I couldn't live there. The place is unremarkable, but the food is phenomenal. The next morning, I was pretty ready to leave.

We made it to Bruges with little trouble, and made a friend en route. A girl by the name of Alex found us in line to figure out if we needed tickets with our eurail pass (which we didn't), and after striking up a conversation, took the train together to Bruges. After hitting the hostel, we grabbed a 'local's tips' map and picked what we wanted to do with our single day in Bruges. And before I start, Bruges was a fresh breath of air after Brussels. The weather was intermittently sunny and rainy, the buildings were old and well cared for, the people lively, and the smells enticing. It reminded me a lot of Winchester to be honest. We started our sightseeing with the infamous belfry from the movie In Bruges. The one where Colin Farrel is shouting at the fat americans that they can't possibly make their way up. In truth, he's very much correct. In what might be the most clastrophobic stairway ever conceived, you have people going up and down a staircase which takes up the same amount of room, from top to bottom, as a fireman's pole. Just imagine firemen trying to up and down that, and you have essentially what that was like. One false step and not only are you falling down 400 or so steps, but you are taking everyone with you. Luckily, that didn't happen, and so we climbed to the top and got a cramped view of Bruges. It was a nice moment, but we were smashed at the top between about 50 other people, like a huge tourism sandwich.

After checking out the belfry, it was time for Frite Battle 2010! Apparently, these two competing frite shops at the foot of the belfry have been at the heart of a local competition for a long time. It's one of those competitions where some locals swear by one chip shop, and other would defend the honor of the other chip shop until their last breath. We decided to split ourselves into the two lines and decide for ourselves which chip shop was better. Me and Jared went to Frite Shop A and Tori went to Frite Shop B. At the end, we compared the two and all decided that Frite Shop A had better frites, but B had the better sauce. If you need a reference point for your own trip to Bruges, if you are facing the entry point for the church, A is on your left and B is on your right. Or just get both. After we had bummed around the main area long enough, we went to the chocolate museum in the hopes that we might be able to see, and maybe taste, the Chocolate Obama statue. We did have to wander through the side streets for a bit, and there were some uncertain twists and turns as Jared lead us forward, with only his sense of smell deciding, almost at random, where we were turning. Tori, at one point, questioned whether or not we were going the right way, stopping even to chide Jared on his methods. Tori: 'How can you possible get us there using this method?' Jared: 'Tori! I can smell the leader of the free world made out of chocolate!'. Quite the quote if you ask me. We made it to the museum, were underwhelmed by the history of chocolate, but did see the chocolate Obama statue (which was pretty cool), and got a demonstration of how chocolate is made, right before our hungry eyes. We ended the night with Trivial Pursuit and beer at the hostel (my best scoring game ever, by the way), a dinner out at a restaurant which made you feel like you were eating a home cooked meal, some more beer, and then sleep.

Next time I come to Belgium, I would spend less time in Brussels and much more time in Bruges. But overall, this was simply a stop on the way to our next big city, Amsterdam. And without leaving everyone in too much suspense, Amsterdam was something else. But, that will have to wait until next time as Berlin awaits us today! Look for a new post very soon!

Signing off from Berlin, Germany,


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