JEZZA'S JAUNT - HOSPITALS, HORSES AND HORDING!
PART II:First night in Brugge, and it was showing heavily when we arrived, all the canals were frozen solid, and it was spectacularly beautiful. After a hearty Waterzooi in Café del Arte, we went to t'Brugs Beertje for our first evening.
The Hospital IncidentHowever, after feeling like flu was coming on earlier in the day, unfortunately after only one drink there I started to feel unwell, went to the bathroom, and fainted!!! I must have hit my head real hard on a tap or sink, because there was blood everywhere, and I'd a big gash in my eyelid, and my glasses had gone into my head, from whence they could not be removed !!! So it was off to Brugge general hospital for a couple of hours, where I got 3 stitches and various tests. Other times I have collapsed I have usually been able to blame alcohol, but as this was clearly not the case this time, it was of course slightly more alarming……
Anyway, if you ever get ill on holiday anywhere, try Brugge, cos the care was excellent, and within a couple of hours we were back at the hotel, suitably patched up and ready to continue the holiday. Unfortunately my appetite didn't really return all week and the flu symptoms remained, and while this obviously spoiled the holiday, we still had some fun times………..
The MJ IncidentThe undoubted highlight was on the Thursday afternoon. We were again sitting in t'Brugs Beertje, sipping a lovely bottle of Avec les Bons Voeux, listening to the classical music, chatting to a couple of other punters, and it was just starting to get dark outside. Suddenly, the calm was shattered by the sound of horses approaching. Outside, the street was filled by two sleek black horses pulling a huge black coach.
In a moment, the bar had filled with about 15 people, all formally dressed up in dinner suits, tails and hats, and among these we noticed a small-ish bearded figure, who was unmistakably Michael Jackson!!! It turned out that the party was from the Br. Bosteels, makers of Kwak and Tripel Karmeliet, who were on a big day out, charging all over Flanders with MJ for company. They'd earlier eaten at the swanky 'Karmeliet' restaurant in Brugge (where else would they have eaten I suppose?), and were later heading for Antwerp for the rest of the night.
Anyway, they bought everyone in the bar a drink (yes, you could choose Tripel Karmeliet or Kwak!) and were extremely entertaining. The party consisted of the brewer, his family and all the top managers of the brewery, it was quite something. Outside, the horses were tended by several staff, who were all drinking Kwak, which apparently is the coachman's beer. The coach itself had Kwak emblems all over it, and Kwak glass holders conveniently located for everyone to put their glasses in while on the move.
So after a few minutes I thought I had to go up to MJ and say hi. You guys at the SoB had all said he was extremely approachable, and you were all 100% right!! He was so charming, and I was talking away to him for about 15 minutes no problem at all. My conversation opener was to get the low down on the SoB, which he seemed to really enjoy, but I also got asking my main question, for Mark's benefit: 'How large is Steve Gale?'!!!!! And he confirmed what we all suspected from Glenn's photos, Steve is very large!! So there you are Mark, he was right about Hoegaarden Grand Cru as we knew all along!!.
We touched on some other subjects too, and all I can say is what a great guy, so approachable and down to earth. I encouraged him to seek out the Babble Belt too, so, who knows, we may get another star writer joining our ramblings in the future. After about half an hour, they were off to the next stop, leaving everyone in the bar slightly bemused, and wondering if it all really happened! I must say that as they rolled off down Kemelstraat, MJ was perched rather precariously on the top of the coach, not looking particularly comfortable!
ShoppingTotal beer spend on beer to bring home was approximately £180 ($250). For this we got 226 bottles of beer, of which 21 were 75cl bottles! Apart from the De Dolle, Westvleteren and Leroy breweries, we also went to Br Regenboog, in the suburbs of Brugge, which is a little microbrewery doing excellent beers such as the T'Smisje range, and the superb new beer, Wostyntje (thanks for the recommendation Mark!).
It was a joy being able to load up in the supermarket and avail of such bargains as Orval at just over 50p (70 cents) a bottle……its enough to make you weep when you realize how much you have to pay outside Belgium for these, but at least we were in the fortunate position of having the car - I'm aware its slightly more tricky to drive from Belgium to the States……
Despite the fact we have a Fiat Uno, which is not the biggest of cars, the above fitted in easily and we could comfortably have carried another 50+ bottles if we'd had the money.
The Stille Nacht Explosion!The shopping accumulated in our hotel room during the week, and the chambermaids must have thought we were bonkers. They were probably right, but what the hell! Anyway, on the last day we went to load up, and as we moved the boxes and bottles, we started to notice a funny smell. Then we noticed that some of the boxes were damp, and then we found the problem: three of the Stille Nacht bottles in our De Dolle box of 20 had literally exploded during the week. They were under such a huge pile of beer that we didn't notice until we went to load up the car, but on investigation, two had shattered into many small pieces, and the other had split into a tidy two piece number.
Now I know that we've previously discussed this stuff being lively, but has anyone else ever found bottles exploding??
Anyway, as De Dolle was on the way home, we decided to call in again and see what they thought. Grand mere was there as usual (such a lovely woman) and she was horrified, and could not have been more apologetic. Now, when we went, we thought that maybe they'd replace the 3 that had gone, and did not expect anything more. But they not only replaced the 3, but gave us a free box of 20 Stille's as compensation!!! What amazing customer service!!! And she was so keen to show us how to pour Stille correctly, she gave us a free one in the bar for good measure. She explained that a few bottles of one batch had exploded due to the new yeast they've been trying out since they lost the Rodenbach yeast, and as I said above, apologized about a 1000 times. We weren't really that bothered, but her response was unbelievable.
FoodAs usual, the Brugge restaurant scene was great, pity about my dodgy stomach. Anyway, should anyone be looking for tips, I can recommend the following Brugge eateries:
The only poor meal we had was in the Curiosa, which actually has a decent range of beers, so in future I think we'll stick to beer in there. If anyone wants addresses for the above, please let me know.
- De Koetse - wonderful Filet of Beef
- Mariecke van Brugge - excellent Belgian Fries (not French Fries, note) and Flemish Beef Stew
- Brasserie Georges - great Dover Sole
- Dell Arte - Waterzooi
Other bars we went to apart from t'Brugs Beertje included the wonderful Vlissinghe, which celebrates its 500th anniversary in 14 years' time, and cannot have changed much for centuries. The décor and furniture are unbelievable, and various paintings indicate the history which you can really appreciate when you go in. Definitely seek it out if you're in town. Also went to De Garre, which is another Brugge favourite, and the much newer Zolder, which is a bar I am growing to like increasingly, especially for those Wednesday nights when t'Brugs Beertje is closed. It has a small-ish but excellent range of beer and a cosy ambience.
And that's about it for Brugge. We went home via De Dolle, Snaaskerke and St Idesbald. Checked out a couple of bars in the latter places, one of which was great and the other which was closed, but at least I'd achieved my ambition of walking the hallowed turf of the town of my (bad) dreams!!! St Idesbald is actually quite a pleasant place with a stunning sea front, and I look forward to exploring it properly on another trip.
After a leisurely day of meandering across Flanders and northern France, we arrived back in London for dinner.
What a trip!
Babblebelt contributors in attendance: