The fairytale of Bruges - Belgium part 3
Arranging an expedition as part of a drinking trip is fraught with problems, not least being that no-one will get up on time and that we will inevitably get lost. Thus we departed an hour after schedule, some of which time was spent lounging in the hotel foyer - a place where we're greatly loved - waiting for certain individuals to drag their arse downstairs. Then we got lost - in the train station.
It seemed simple enough; we'd gone in from Madeleine Square and could see the escalators for various platforms. We'd gazed at the signs which seemed to suggest that the ticket office was left, or right, or straight ahead - depending which way you looked at it. Thus we went left, right, straight ahead, up some stairs which took us out of the station, back in again and eventually found the ticket hall up a different flight of stairs.
This process may have taken ten minutes, but at no time did we seek assistance - because we're blokes and because we're English and have little or no knowledge of French/Flemish, as proved in the restaurant on the night before.
Eventually we were able to buy tickets, plus food and beer (well, it was 11am) and go to wait on the relevant platform. We dithered for a while about which train was ours before boarding a sleek double-decker and accidentally sitting amongst a party of school-girls on some outing to Bruges. Their volume may not have been a good antidote to our hangovers, or maybe that was the Leffe brun.
I believe we may have serenaded Coop with the world-famous birthday song whilst discussing the merits of importing cars from Europe and the relative states of our hangovers. I doubt that we were a good influence on a party of schoolgirls, but they probably weren't looking to us for influence anyway.
Bruges is a picturesque place, as anyone who's seen the film will testify. Bruges in the rain is not so pleasant although the main square and the horse-drawn-tourist-traps are a beautiful sight at any point. We made our way down a cobbled street to a recommended pub but they didn't seem keen to have us, being more interested in the lunchtime 'eating' fraternity than our drinking variety.
Consequently we crossed the square a second time in an attempt to find one of Bruges' better rated bars - 't Brugs Beertje or Berties as we grew to call it. Sadly we were there too early; it didn't open until 4pm. A quick consultation of the by-now-getting-soggy book sent us searching for de garre bar via a slightly inadequate map.
We headed back to the main square thinking for some reason that it was near our previous bar, on the left hand side. I was convinced that it was on the right but we veered across and past the statues and up a few blind alleys, eventually asking at both a chocolate shop (of which there are many) and another bar. We were advised to find it down an alley on the right hand side and so we crossed the square for a fourth time in the rain and eventually into the warm embrace of Gary's bar as I tried to resist telling everyone how right I was originally.
The de garre was a quaint two-storey affair and we were to find ourselves on the upper floor amongst many much older people who'd obviously popped in for a quiet drink. As we accepted the kind patronage of 'Gary' our friendly barman and began to work our way through the menu, I fear that our uncivilised manner, boorish banter and loud laughter was too much for some of the clientele and we emptied the top tier not once but twice during our stay.
This banter often circulated upon the new nicknames we seemed to have already earned during the trip. Biss and Shane (also known as TA - travel agent - since he normally arranges these outings) seemed keen to foist upon me the name of 'superdry boy' due to my penchant for t-shirts made by the brand that is probably too young and trendy for me (but fits well). This was despite the fact that they had only been seen in checked shirts (TA) or polo shirts (Biss) for the same duration and regularity as I'd been wearing Superdry. Oh, the irony.
During our numerous rounds of different beers (all now lost from my memory) one of our number - let's call him Biss - decided to order what he'd read described as the 'champagne of Belgian beers'. 'Gary' warned us that the beer had a slightly sour taste but we were not to be warned off, we ordered five. The amber coloured nectar had an unusual smell and a more unusual taste, slightly like champagne but only if it'd been left in the sun for a few months and re-frozen.
It was at this point; perhaps distraught at his choice of beer or simply lacking his normal deft motor-functions, Biss chose to spill most of a drink over Coop. Not his own drink of course but Coop's, whose glass went flying into his lap. It is one thing to raise a glass to the birthday boy, completely another to throw one over him.
We were soon to leave de garre, as much in embarrassment as in the knowledge that 'Berties' was now open. Of course I could not resist the urge to sightsee, this being my first visit to Bruges, so I insisted upon climbing the tower - a central feature of the film. Only TA was willing to accompany me and so we paid the princely sum of Ã¢ÂÂ¬8 each for the privilege of climbing a lot of stairs, both narrow and steep.
They'd warned us that the view was restricted by work being undertaken on the bell-tower, had we realised quite how restricted I know that we wouldn't have bothered. We went up, took a look over grey and drizzly Bruges and we came down again slightly more knackered than we'd previously been. We went to join our drunken friends in the 't Brugs Beertje.
Another Bruges side-street, another quaint bar with a marvellous reputation - Berties was worth the visit if only to meet the legendary owner and have beers recommended to us. It was also the bar that inspired the book around which we'd based the bulk of our visit, so we had to make that pilgrimage.
On leaving Berties to head back to the station I stopped to take some photos of picturesque Bruges and promptly lost the rest of the 'gang', a few phone calls later and I discovered them in a 'pick n' mix' shop, possibly causing much consternation to the owner.
We acquired some picnic items (and beer, of course) from a local supermarket and departed for the train. The night was yet young, though we were not. Coop was still 50.
To be continued.......