Bustling to Bruges (Flemish Hospitality)

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February 19th 2010
Published: February 19th 2010
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I woke up early in our eco-hostel in Gent. I didn't sleep much because I woke up feeling feverish. Despite the mild temperature of the room I was burning up! I was clearly getting more sick despite the Belgian cough syrup that had been prescribed to me at the pharmacy the day before (and which I had been swigging religiously). At breakfast I told Sarah I needed to take it easy today.

If only we knew!

So we left the hostel around 9:30am and headed into town to see visit Saint Bavo Cathedral, where the altarpiece is. We walked around the cathedral (which was pretty darn awesome) and enjoyed the sights but didn't see the altarpiece anywhere. Finally we found a room that you have to pay 4 euro to get into. It was so worth it! The altarpiece is HUGE about 12 feet across and seven feet tall. It's done in amazing detail too, and it was nothing like seeing the digital images in class. I lingered there as long as I felt Sarah would let me, and then we moved on out of the cathedral to head to the station.

We wanted to take the

still in Gent. This is me after seeing the Ghent Altarpeice!!!!
tram that the staff had recommended to get to the station. We got there, and it looked like there was a lot of traffic around, so I decided to practice my Dutch a little.
"Excuser mee?"I asked a woman next to us. "Spreek u engles?" She told me she did speak English and then she told us that actually this tram wasn't running, so we had to go to another one down the street. We took the tram without paying, because we couldn't find the ticket machine and the drivers don't seem to sell them here. Sorry Belgium!

At the train station, we barely made our train headed to Bruges. We'd decided to go to Bruges Sint Pierre Station, which seemed closer to our hostel. When we arrived at the station, Sarah and I got up and pushed the button to open the door. But it wouldn't open! We pushed again, and then the train started moving again! So....we moved cars and rode the train to Lisseweg (read: THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE). We waited for about 30 minuted for the next train going to opposite way, and hopped on after standing out in the rainy cold.

On the

Lisseweg, Belgium. Where we were stranded for a while.
train, the conductor ACTUALLY came by to check our tickets (first time that's happened in Belgium). I handed him my ticket and he just looked at us like we were dumb Americans. I told him that I knew the ticket wasn't valid for the other direction, but that we hadn't been able to get off of the other train. He just huffed and walked away like he didn't even want to bother with us.

Finally, we arrived at Bruges Sint Pieters......only to discover that it, also, is in the middle of nowhere. We didn't have a map of Bruges (we'd been hoping to get one at the station, but this station was just a track with a glass box....) I'd written down directions from Google, and so we tried to make our way in the direction that seemed right. We walked, along what seemed to be a highway, with no sidewalk. It was cold and raining a little, and we were carrying all of our stuff. It was getting tiresome. Then we reached an intersection of highways that said Brussels one way and Ghent the other. So we turned around and went the other way. We stopped at the

after reaching the safety of the hostel in Bruges
gas station (the only place that was open along this weird and desolate road), bough a map, and realized we were far, far away from our hostel.

We decided to take the train back the Bruges central station, which would be in town more centrally located. Walking back along the road, we looked like hitchhikers.

So after more waiting in the rain....we got back on the train heading into Bruges. I knew we didn't have a ticket this time, but I was game to take the chance. But then, who do we see coming down the car aisle? Our conductor friend!!! For a moment, my instinct was to hide, but then he saw us. He rolled his eyes again and walked over.
"It's you again."He says, in the most emotionless voice ever.
"Erm, yeah we got lost...."but ever before I finish my sentence, he's already walked away, deciding that we are much too silly to take up his time.
Sarah and I almost died of laughter. What a day. We'd left Ghent at 11am, and it was 1:30 now.

Finally we reached Bruges Centraal. We were both really hungry and decided to stop in a Belgian fast food joint. I had beef croquettes and fries (served with mayo here) and Sarah had another waffle, but this time with white chocolate on top. The moral was a little low after so many ordeals.

We walked out of the station and found the bus info desk. The woman told us that usually there would be a bus that would go right were our hostel was, but because of construction, not anymore (just our luck!). So she recommended Bus #31. We waited for that one and got on, telling the man we needed to go to Ezelport. He told us to get off and take the #3. I told him it wasn't running and that we were told to take this one. He told us to get off.

So we got off. We walked back to the bus info desk and told the friendly woman what had happened. She kind of shook her fist in no general direction, telling us that HE was wrong and SHE was right. But that now we would have to take bus #42. So we took bus #42 (he didn't tell us to get off this time thankfully) to Ezelport and walked to Ezelstraat, where our hostel was. It wasn't a long walk at all and then we were able to check in. Success!!!

In our room getting our things organized, I hugged the bed post desperately, so glad that after 4 and a half hours (it should have taken 1 and a half...) we had finally reached our resting place for the night. Our hostel was an interesting place, as it is actually a pub and night club on the first floor and a hostel on the top three. The rooms were nice enough, and I had no complaints.

We hurried into the center of town, because our one goal today had been to see the Chocolate Museum. We finally found it, but it was already 4:30 and they said it really wouldn't be worth it to go then because it closed in half an hour. So we resolved to come back in the morning.

We wandered around the center of town, which was very charming with a lot of the same Dutch style houses we'd seen in Amsterdam. Around 6:00 we found a bar to have dinner in. It was a very cozy establishment and since I was still feeling the cold I kept my hands constantly on the radiator by our table. I had a Duvel (a classic Belgian beer) and it was really good! Sarah enjoyed her hot cocoa. After about an hour, we were wondering where the waitress was because we wanted to order food too. We kept trying to flag her down, and then after about an hour and a half we succeded.

Here's a note about Belgium: people are really relaxed! I think it's even more so than in France that you have to wait a long time to get your waiter's attention. Anyways, we didn't have anywhere better to go! Once we finally got fer attention, we ordered mac and cheese--which seems to be popular in the Netherlands and Belgium. I was starting to feel the beer and then Sarah ordered one too. Our food came and we ate it as steam rolled off of the maple brown ceramic ware. There were about 7 people at the bar and they were starting to get a little tipsy and they were laughing a lot. The bar maid (also our waitress) was laughing and joking with them too, and it was really funny.

Sarah and I finished eating, but of course it would be another two hours or so until we got our check. I didn't mind. We just talked and relaxed after our hard day. The people at the bar erupted in laughter and one of the guy said to us in English: "You don't have to guess which one's drunk!" motioning to guy that everyone was apparently laughing at for saying something amusing. Sarah went up to the bar to ask for the check. The guy who had spoken to us before asked where we were from. Sarah said Florida. He motioned to me and I nodded. Sure, I can be from Florida! The waitress came over and told us that she had been to the states once, to Colorado. I said that's nice, but it can get cold there. "Yes, the northern states are cold too, yes? Not like Florida! It must be hot there!" Then the man says: "Someone told me once that there are only two seasons in Minnesota. Snow season and road repair season!"

So we're laughing along with these people then we pay and get our coats. We're walking out to leave and then everyone in the bar turns and says in English "Bye! Have a great night!" and one old man in particular says "Be careful out there!" It was so charming and hilarious. We'd been physically sharing this space with these 8 strangers, and only talked to two of them, yet they all felt the need to enthusiastically see us off. I thought to myself, in the states, I don't think this would ever happen. People in the states kind of keep to themselves and ignore the existence of others. It's something I've noticed as a point of comparison in France. In France, you always say hello and goodbye when you enter a store, a restaurant, movie theater, public restroom, etc. You acknowledge the people around you.

Anyways, we were so tickled by our send off from the bar. "Flemish hospitality," I sighed as we continued down the street.

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