Thursday 20th September.
Our day started with an early morning walk and we had the streets all to ourselves at 7.30 am. It was lovely to walk the cobbled lanes without the crowds and to enjoy the sights in the relative peace and quiet that the early hour offered.
Our 2 hour walking tour started at 9.45 am and we made it to the Town Square meeting spot with enough time for Mark to grab a coffee. Here too, like Amsterdam, you’re hard pressed finding a coffee shop open before 9 am. Our young guide, Jan, took our group of 15 or so on a walk through the lane ways of Bruges offering witty commentary and insight along the way. Peeps from Brugge definitely don’t like the French or folk from Ghent. They still want their statue back from the latter group which was stolen in 1382. Even today, at football matches between Bruges and Ghent, the common war cry is ‘We have the dragon’ which is closely followed by ‘Give it back’. Our guide finished off the tour with a tale about how he featured in the film In Bruges and was bummed that his brother in law featured in the credits whereas he didn’t.
Our tour finished and we set off to try the traditional dish of mussels cooked in beer. We found a location in the touristy part of town but, whilst the mussels were nice, I think they must have forgotten the beer as there was no suggestion of any beer flavour. There was some time to kill between lunch and our 2.15 brewery tour so we filled that with a visit to see the Michelangelo at the Church of Our Lady and then to taste some of the famous Belgian waffles. If you search online for the Church of Our Lady it says a website is coming well I hope they get a guide or pamphlet sorted to go with the entry ticket as well. The only real reason for going there for us was to see the only Michelangelo outside of Italy, The Madonna of Bruges, and that’s about the only value we derived from this visit. Our guide, from the morning tour, says that people in Brugge credit George Clooney for getting the statue back to Bruges after it was stolen during WW2; this being the plot of the film, ‘The Monuments Men‘. The waffle tasting too was a bit underwhelming, but, not so our afternoon brewery tour.
Our tour of the De Halve Mann brewery was a great afternoon and I’d highly recommend the 2.15 pm extended 90 minute tour that includes 4 beer tastings. The tour itself was fine but it was the sitting-off after the tour chatting with other folk for an hour or so that really made this day. There was a couple from Texas that lived very close to Chip and Joanna Gaines, a couple I stalk on home renovation TV and so that was really cool for me. There was an interesting father and son pair from LA, a guy from Canada who still had his chipper English accent after 40 years away and another couple from Belarus and Netherlands so it was a very international affair and a very happy and social one at that. I did learn a couple a things about brewing beer though and these are that 1) the amount of malt determines the alcohol content and 2) the degree of roasting of the malt determines the colour of beer. One other interesting fact about this brewery is that in 2016 they built an underground pipeline to take the beer from the brewery, in Bruges Old Town, 3 km out to the bottling plant outside of town. This was funded by offering locals shares in the company and, instead of a dividend, they receive a free bottle of beer each day and a crate on their birthday for life. This is one company I’m sure mark would like to diversify into! We didn’t end up leaving the brewery until almost 5 pm, with two bottles of dark beer in hand, and headed back to our room for a bit of a rest.