Five Foot Tall and full of muscles
Trip Start Aug 01, 2005
110Trip End Nov 22, 2005
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Five foot nine and full of muscles
I found out today whilst each beer has its own special glass that it needs to be drunk from. Some of them continue to ferment, some need aeration and some just taste better. When I told a local that we had been drinking straight from the bottle, he replied, "You should be feeling very ill. That is not a good idea." If only I had met this guy the day before.
Still, it was a nice day and we were in Bruges so we decided to do a bike tour of the city. As it is off season there were only five of us on the tour- Fee and I plus a Scottish guy and his two kids. Having a small group was good as we got to cover a fair amount of ground and learn a lot about this area of Belgium
Jean Claude van Damme and Kim Clijsters are Belgian.
It is a small country wedged between Netherlands and France.
They make lots of beer.
So there was certainly much to learn. Basically Belgium is divided into two regions- Flanders in the west where they speak Flemish (as opposed to Ned Flanders who speaks okely diddly okely) and Wallonia in the east where they speak French. Bruges is in Flanders so we learnt about the Flemish history. Firstly we were told how to pronounce Bruges. It is not Brooog. Or Broogs. Or Brooges. It is Bruh Ha. (Sort of like brouhaha without the last laugh). The Flemish have had a chequered history and Flanders is known as the Battlefield of Europe. There are lots of WWI and II battlefields in the countryside. The Flemish have fought with the French, the Vikings, many regional tribes and of course the Germans.
The most interesting battle was back in the 16th century when the French had conquered Bruges
Despite all this Bruges developed into a bustling little city, prospering on taxes levied on boats coming into their canals to deliver goods. Another way they made money was on taxing the number of windows a house owner had on their house. This prompted many people to brick over their windows and led to the expression "daylight robbery". Even know as we rode around there were still houses that had bricked in windows.
They were also very good weavers and their work was highly prized. So much so that in return for some of their work, Italy commissioned Michelangelo to do a sculpture to present to them
After a while the canals starting filling with silt and the bigger boats could no longer make it in to town. This had a big impact on the economy and Bruges lapsed into a small decline. However just like Rothenburg this enforced poverty has proven to its long term benefit, as the medieval city has been well preserved. The old city has a circumference of just over seven kilometres and just 20,000 people live within this area. Combined with the absence of cars and the mass amount of bikes it would be a very pleasant place to live. As we cycled around, whatever cars were on the roads would always allow us through which is a refreshing change from the conditions I encounter on my bike back home. At times it feels like I have a target on my back so a big thumbs up to the car drivers in Bruges. From the city centre it does not take long to get into countryside and there are windmills and fields. Quite cool.
Overloaded on Belgian beer from the night before (though we both had one at 11am today as part of the tour) we went to the next stage of Belgian cuisine- waffles and chocolate. As mentioned yesterday there are lots of chocolate stores and it was time to indulge. Choosing it is the biggest decision as there are so many different types and they all look so good. Having feasted on chocolate we then had to try a famous Belgian waffle. These are huge and can be covered in cream, chocolate, honey or anything else you can think of and is an easy way to stack on the weight. Luckily all the locals ride around or they would be huge. All the sugar we had did help reduce our hangovers though.
It seems that in Bruges everyone speaks English. Normally when we travel to foreign countries I learn a handful of words and phrases so I can make basic conversation. I have not found this necessary in Bruges. Whenever we went into a shop or cafes, people would always speak to us in English. Even before we have spoken. It makes it far easier but is also a shame, as part of travelling is attempting to communicate in foreign languages. It doesn't seem as exotic when everyone is speaking English. Our guide told us that everyone could speak Flemish, English and French and most know German and some Spanish and Italian as well. Quite talented. It makes us seem very inferior, as we only know one language.
For our final meal we decided to keep up our Belgian flavour and have a traditional Belgian meal. I ordered a pot of mussels (I wish I could order a pot of muscles- that would be handy for my weak body) whilst Fee had Flemish Rabbit stew. Of course both came with the obligatory Belgian frittes. I believe fries actually originated in Belgium and it does annoy them to hear them termed French fries. As explained by Jules in Pulp Fiction, the Belgians like to put mayonnaise on their frittes and so we followed. It is actually quite nice.
The mussels come served in an enormous bowl that seemed to have no bottom. The Belgians love their mussels and you often see them eating from these huge bowls at restaurants. It took me half an hour to get through half a serve which is more mussels that I have eaten in my life. When Men At Work sings that famous line, "I met a man in Brussels. He was six foot four and full of muscles- I think they must be referring to the mollusc rather than his body. Everyone in Belgium is full of mussels.