Wed. July 9, 2014:
I had a nightmare that I had gone back home to visit my family, all I could think during the nightmare was all the things in Bruges that I would be missing. It felt good to wake up and find myself very much so still in Europe. Our hotel featured a breakfast buffet that was super fancy and amazing. There was an array of meats, cheeses and breads as well as fresh fruits. The coffee was actually really good. Needless to say I took my time and ate a hearty breakfast. We were even given little chocolates on the side. I felt so fancy sitting there eating (surprisingly tasty) soft cheese and sipping my coffee from a porcelain cup. Alas we had a busy day ahead of us and as soon as I was done we were out the door.
We could not for the life of us fine the Memmling museum. I remembered seeing a banner for it on our way in, but Brent maintained that it was supposed to be in a hospital. At the hospital there was just an entrance to the Sint Jan Hospital museum. We wandered around the hospital grounds but to no avail. We asked at the church, and got a blank look. It was across the street. Turns out the Sint Jan Hospital museum and the Memmling museum were one and the same! While there we also found out from the nice lady that the church was closed until 1pm due to a funeral, thus shifting our plans for the day as we would have to come back later.
The hospital half of the museum lived up to its name, there were plenty of old medical instruments that gave me the heebeejeebees. Items such as tear duct needles and crude metal eye forceps. Included in the collection was a painting of a doctor using an eye needle on a young girl without paying attention. Part of the museum was religious relics and altar pieces. We got to see old pieces of saints (jaw bones and teeth to name a few) in fancy little holders. The Memmling half of the museum did not deliver. In total there were two, maybe three, pieces by Memmling- hardly worthy of being called a museum. We also had admission to a mini-museum next door. It was basically an old apothecary with jars and lots of dust. Conclusion: thank god for modern medicine.
Up next we went to the Picasso exhibit, still within the hospital grounds, as a bonus they also had a Warhol exhibit. The exhibit had more than Picasso; we saw works by Matisse, Miro, Magritte and Dali. The exhibit was well curated, you could see how the artists interacted and influenced each other. They also had on display sketches and studies for paintings that helped put the finished pieces into perspective, you could really see how much work and planning went into it. My favourite part was the letters the artists had written were shown in fancy display cases. Language barrier aside, they were impossible to read! Pure chicken scratch. (Brent later pointed out when reading that in my notebook, calling my writing comparable in terms of messiness). It was amusing to see that some of them had included little doodles in their letters, it reminded me of the little reference drawings in my travel books.
At first the Andy Warhol exhibit did not seem entirely worth it. Basically it was one big room of his work. Only after walking through and actually getting to see some of his earlier works in water colours and seeing archival photos did I truly appreciate the exhibit. It never occurred to me how much work it is to actually produce a screen print that big, until I saw the photo of a whole team working on it.
The museum tour continued, the day was nowhere near over. The Groening Museum featured mostly Flemish painters. It was nice to see work by painters I had never heard of. We got to see some more Memmling paintings- almost as many as at the Memmling museum. The museum started off with mostly religious paintings but at the end we got a nice surprise with some work by Magritte. It was interesting to see Flemish surrealist paintings, they were just as awesome and it is a shame they are not as well known. Included with our admission was the Arentshuis Museum as well. It was a small exhibit, featuring only two artists. Thank goodness I had packed the chocolate from Mary’s; it was helping us get through all the museums.
We took a break from looking at art and stood in line to climb the belfry tower. It was agony standing there, thinking about the 366 steps we would have to climb (after half a day of walking through galleries and museums with more to come). Luckily there were little pit-stops along the way. We got to look at the bells, and have views out the window at different heights. At the very top it was really windy and the rain was being whipped in through the tiny windows. The view was totally worth it all, we could literally see all of Bruges- and then some. There were markings on the windowsill telling you how far away and in which direction certain cities were. On our way back down we sat by the bells, hoping they would play, alas they took too long and we got bored. It was a long, slow, dizzying descent downstairs. I actually found it a lot worse going down than up. I got a lot dizzier and besides: it is a lot worse to trip going down stairs than up. The stairs were also really narrow, it was confusing as to who had right of way. I did the polite Canadian thing and stopped to let people pass (actually, I was dizzy and had to stop).
The Salvador Dali museum was actually more of a private gallery with some items actually for sale. That beign said, they did still provide a lot of information about the bodies of work. It was rather tempting to buy “The Elephants”.
For a change we went to Quick Burger for lunch (that, and because McDonalds was too far away). I had the bacon max burger because it was the only in the picture that did not have lettuce or tomatoes (there was no way I was going to attempt to order a burger and then add on “no lettuce or tomatoes”). I also got ketchup with my fries, lest the mayonnaise be gross. I made the right call; Brent was soon stealing my ketchup. The burger had a weird spicy mayo sauce that I did not care for. I have no idea what is up with all the mayo-love. It was not good. After all that I was too full for Haagen Daz but I made a note of it for later.
We topped off our day with a trip to Our Lady of Bruges, which was now open. We passed around a group of people balking at the idea of paying 2 euros admission. It was a small price to pay to be able to see Michaelangelo’s sculpture Madonna & Child- one of his only works outside of Italy. The rest of the church was absolutely gorgeous, except for the parts under renovation- that I could do without seeing. It was weird to see gravestones in the ground, I felt bad for walking over them despite how worn down they were, i.e.: everyone had walked on them.
The rain had gotten worse and the wind picked up, threatening to break my umbrella. We retreated to the hotel for afternoon beers. The Hoegaarden Rose (i.e.: with raspberries) was one of the best beers I’d had thus far. It tasted more like beer and less like rotten fruit juice. The rain was refusing to let up, we had to live with it as we headed to the grocery store and The Chocolate Line. I had read about the chocolate store online, apparently they had some wacky chocolates such as cola flavoured and they were all made in-house. There was a Canadian family in the shop, so we basically outnumbered the Belgians, 7 to 3. In total we got four chocolates: white chocolate raspberry yuzu (lemon), cola, cinnamon and marzipan. Brent had noticed that a lot of chocolate shops sold chocolate covered marshmallow balls, so we added one on as well.
At the grocery store we stocked up on essentials: beer, a Snax chocolate bar and souvenir food for my family (Speculoos and a Belgian chocolate bar- both of which survived the trip, I somehow managed not to eat or crush them). On the way back we stopped at a convenience store and added to our beer collection. I found another fruit beer I had yet to try, Belgian Kriek. The only way I knew I had not tried it was by the % of fruit juice which was 15 (I had tried 20 and 30 so far). It was funny because it had Mannekin Pis on it. We had a very crummy walk back to the hotel. Even the horses that pull carriages full of tourists were not having it, one was neighing grumpily. There was also a scruffy, rain-soaked dog that looked absolutely miserable.
It felt so good to be back in the hotel with the chocolates and beers. They would have to hold us over until dinner that evening. The cola chocolate had popping candy in it mimicking the fizz of soda. The marshmallow puff was a super fancy gourmet Viva Puff cookie complete with graham cracker base. We settled in with our chocolates and beers and watched True Detective until it was time to head back out again.
In the Markt Square at 9pm the bells in the belfry played a song. I had thought ahead and insisted on getting there early so that I could get my ice cream fix at Haagen Daz. It was only raining lightly so I was able to enjoy my vanilla caramel brownie ice cream while the bells played on. We tried to get a table at Brasserie Cambriunus but it was full. They also did not have a TV, how were we supposed to watch the World Cup game Netherlands vs. Argentina? We went back to the hotel (again, I cannot tell you how many times that day we were asked if we had our key) to look up an alternate “hip and happenin” pub, maybe the second or third best pub for drinking beer in Bruges. As we walked by Brasserie Cambriunus Brent noticed that there were a few tables. He chose beer over soccer.
It is no surprise that this was recommended as best place to drink beer in Bruges. The beer menu was literally the size of an encyclopedia (mostly due to each page being in a plastic envelope). It was colour-coded by style, I skipped right ahead to the pink pages: fruit beer. Even still I was overwhelmed and at a loss. So many to choose from!! Brent suggested the Cantillon Rose, partly because he wanted to try, mostly because it was voted the best fruit beer. I shrugged and figured, what’s the worst that could happen? I was presented with a beer that had a drawing of a naked lady on a bench on it. The beer was a little bit sour, but for a beer-tasting beer it was actually quite palatable. I did still nurse it all night.
For dinner I ordered the “Flemish” onion soup which basically amounted to french onion soup with less cheese. I could not taste the beer it was supposedly made with. I stole two pieces of garlic bacon tomato bread from Brent, much better than the soup. The whole evening we were stuck sitting beside the most insufferable Yankee-girls, they were still so young and so dumb. It was driving me nuts.
The service at the pub was horrible. After asking for the bill, 30 minutes passed and nothing. Brent asked and the server claimed he “hadn’t heard” the first time. Lies. It was especially odd given the pub was closing. You would think they would be trying to usher us out there, bringing us the bill and closing the tab. Especially given that the game was on. All evening we watched people poke their heads in, scan for a TV, and leave. We walked down the street to the hostel bar Charlie Rockets, but it was packed and there was no room. At the next bar down the street however, there was no one watching the game. We could not find the right amount of people-to-bar-space ratio to watch the game in. We gave up and started heading for “home”, but not without one last stop on Brent’s Beer Tour of Belgium.
Somehow it was still raining on our way back. It had been raining for four days straight now. It is no surprise to say that my legs were exhausted by the time we got back. I didn’t even see the end of the game as I had fallen asleep.