It feels good to be back on the road. I mean that literally - as I write this, we’re cruising the Belgian countryside from Bruges to Brussels on a very delayed but incredibly smooth train, flying past cows and farms and tiny picturesque villages. Alex and I have been moving at breakneck speed for the last couple days (and that pace won’t let up for a couple more weeks) and we’ve come to realize that we enjoy that kind of existence. As much as there is to do in London, we found ourselves getting too settled into a day-to-day routine and the stressors that go with it, so getting back to backpacker life has really rejuvenated us.
In planning this trip, Alex and I were really curious about Bruges. We weren’t sure what exactly to expect: obviously we’re both very familiar with the movie “In Bruges” but we assumed there was a lot more than one tall tower and some swans. What we discovered is that Bruges is small (we walked around the entire city multiple times over the course of two days) and very, very quaint. It’s also one of the most touristy places either of us have ever been: people have been visiting Bruges for hundreds of years, and the tourism industry here is a well-oiled machine. Prices are consistently (ludicrously) high, there are literally hundreds of mostly-indistinguishable chocolate shops and trinket stores lining the streets, and horse carts and crowded boats beckon everywhere you turn.
In some towns - Cambridge, England or Pisa, Italy come to mind - the overall experience kind of sucks because it feels like everyone is out for those sweet sweet tourist dollars and the original charm of the place has been lost. Bruges, though, still feels like a great place to be despite all the touristy-ness. Only once did I really feel like I was getting ripped off, and that was at a tourist-trap restaurant in a large square. That’s a big no-no and we knew it - as every guidebook says, you should avoid eating in the central Markt area or any of the bigger squares that are lined with restaurants - but I was hungry, so mistakes were made.
Luckily, other than that dinner, everything else we ate and drank in Bruges was exceptional - and we really didn’t do much else, just some quiet sightseeing in between sips of beer or bites of waffles. After our disappointing dinner on Thursday, we hit up The Potato Bar and had some of the best frites (fries) I’ve ever had the joy of putting in my mouth. They were smothered in mayo and cheese, and as a person who finds mayonnaise repulsive, this was not like any mayo I’ve ever had. Every bite was heaven. If I get nothing else out of this trip, at least I know to trust the Belgians when it comes to condiments.
Another highlight was Chez Albert, a tiny waffle stand just off the main square, where they serve piping hot waffles smothered in dark chocolate sauce and whipped cream. There are many, many waffle shops in Bruges, but this one is the best. Trust us. It’s messy, and you’ll probably feel like garbage after, but the waffles are 100 percent worth it.
And of course we spent plenty of time enjoying that thing which Belgium is probably most famous for: beer. We visited the only two breweries still operating in the city limits, De Halve Maan and Bourgogne des Flandres, as well as an array of beer bars including our personal favorite Le Trappiste, which we visited both nights. On our second visit we got to chatting with our bartender. We told him we were American and he asked us to recommend him one American beer to seek out. Without looking at each other Alex and I immediately said “Zombie Dust” in unison. Without skipping a beat, he said “ah yes, Three Floyds, I love those guys” and Alex and I just kind of stared at each other in shock. As it turns out, folks from Three Floyds pay the Le Trappiste team a visit every 6-8 months, bringing a selection of their beers, educating themselves about Belgian beer trends and brewing techniques, and just spreading beer love across the world. I never thought I’d be discussing the nuances of Three Floyds with a random bartender in a small underground bar in Bruges, but that just goes to show that the world really is smaller than you think. That’s why we’re traveling: not just to see the sights, but also to meet the people and discover that in spite of cultural differences we’re all pretty much the same at heart, and we all love beer.