01 – The Second Honeymoon
02 – Conquering Medieval Stairs
03 – Urinating in Brussels
04 – On to Paris
05 – Seeing Louvre
06 – A Police Story
07 – The Sun King’s Blingy Home
08 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky
09 – Hangin’ with Our Royal Neighbors
10 – Sending Ourselves to the Tower
11 – Raining on the Parade
12 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky Again
After the fourth breakfast in 17 hours, we landed in Brussels.
It seemed symbolic for our first stop in Europe to be in the capital of the European Union. However, the first impression at the airport left much to be desired. It was a modest and very quiet airport, and we had to walk through a strange circular ramp akin to a parking garage, in order to get to the train that everyone was supposed to take.
This seemed like where international police should be chasing and shooting at Jason Bourne, not where international tourists are expected to find their way into town.
We got to Brussels Central on an antique-looking train. Right outside the station was an armored truck and several soldiers with big machine guns. The logical side of me told me it was the safest place to be, but the memories of recent terror attacks loomed. The quiet city center on this Sunday morning felt particularly depressing. Not a great way to start a vacation, was it? Good thing we weren’t going to hangout here. We headed back into the station, and jumped on another train to Bruges.
Bruges train station. Just as deserted but less ghetto than the Brussels ones.
Bruges is a medieval town known for its charm as being quite medieval. Very old homes in New York are called “pre-war”, and in Taiwan are built in the “Japanese occupation era”. Neither of those measures of oldness is quite in the same league as “medieval”. The center of Bruges is full of buildings that have been around for 500-1,000 years. As a rule of thumb, Hong and I consider the word “charm” to be a code word for stuff needing a serious update. The visible age of Bruges was a test for our tolerance for oldness.
There was no Uber in Bruges. But they got horses.
Not every building was necessarily ancient, but many were. There were architectural elements, such as door bells, hand rails, and peep hole guards that seemed to belong in a history museum.
One of the more modern-looking streets
Bruges – the Venice of the North – had several canals
Spotting tourists like a pro
The town was not only old, but also really quiet. Half of the stores and restaurants that we came across were closed, and there was barely any sign of people other than tourists and those who cater to tourists. Today being a Sunday may have something to do with it, but geez it felt like a ghost town.
Well okay, the folks selling Belgium waffles were still around
The most prominent structure in the entire city was Belfry, a bell tower at Grote Markt (the central square) dating back to 1240. We paid the admission and climbed to the top. It required dealing with two-way traffic on 366 narrow and steep spiral steps. It was a somewhat dangerous workout, but the view up top was fantastic.
Belfry towers over Bruges
View from atop Belfry
View from atop Belfry
On one hand, it was amazing that people back in the 13th century managed to build such a massive, 83-meter skyscraper out of stone, and put some giant bells on it. On the other hand, it was a little grim to think that the prime of this city happened almost 800 years ago. It must feel weird to speak of the glorious days as those enjoyed by your grandparents’ ancient ancestors.
The other thing that we visited in Bruges was the Friet Museum. As the name spells, it was a
tourist trap museum about potatoes and fries. As faithful fans of poome frites and McDonald’s fries, we just had to pay a visit.
You know the cultural depth of a town when its most visited museum was about deep-fried starch
Like many other things, white dudes took potatoes from the Native Americans
Give your woman this fast potato cutter for Christmas and she will love you forever
Would you like ketchup?
The Friet Museum would not be complete without its own shop selling friets
These fries turned out to be so bad, that not only did we throw away half of it, we completely stopped wanting to eat fried food afterwards
After strolling down the main street with a long Dutch name, we had dinner at a restaurant called De Hobbit. A cozy pub embracing Tolkien’s creations, this place served the best ribs that I’d ever had.
Judging by its looks, you’d think this restaurant pre-dates Tolkien by a century or two
Menu – a Middle Earth newspaper
My unlimited ribs were seriously mouthwatering
Our hotel was conveniently located across the street from the back of Belfry, so when we looked out the window all we saw were 800-year-old bricks. I would say the location was impeccable, but central Bruges was so small that most hotels were within a short walking distance from one another.
For the rest of the evening, we chilled at the hotel bar, organized pictures, and wrote this. An old man across from us looked depressingly bored and lonely, so we tried to strike a conversation with him. He was nice, but spoke limited English and was hard of hearing, and therefore not the easiest person to talk to at a bar. He was 87 and lived his whole life in Bruges. Suppose I’d be depressed too if I spent so much time in a small town…
Our drinks… with a souvenir shaker!