After another fine breakfast, we loaded up the BMW and began our journey west to Bruges, Belgium. On the way we made a brief stop in Birkenfield, the area my Uncle Chuck was stationed when I visited he and his family in 1977.
Unable to find any locations that sparked a memory, we moved on west, driving easily, getting acquainted with the car, a process that would eventually lead us to buying our own BMW in 2007.
The 3-series we rented didn’t have the amount of horsepower the 335 that we now own does, and that may be what sold me on the car, the absolute feeling of certainty one gets while driving one, how you feel as though it can handle just about any driving condition you’ll encounter and it will navigate you through it. Getting the extra horsepower in the 335 was an absolute bonus, taking me back to my days as a teenage boy growing up in car crazy Los Angeles, wishing for nothing more than a hot rod car with which to cruise the A&W at Sepulveda and Venice Boulevards.
When I reflect on those days, and how far we’ve come from a technology perspective, it makes those earlier times seem quaint. My dream car, purchased at the beginning of my senior year in high school was a 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle, aqua blue with a black vinyl interior. Equipped with a 327 cubic inch engine and a four speed, it also included the SS package without any of the badging, so I’m thinking it put out about 275 horsepower with a four-barrel Holley Quadrajet Carburetor. I
It was state of the art at the time and I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. Today’s cars though with their fuel injection and in the case of the BMW 335, twin turbocharged engine whose six cylinders puts out 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque, are superior, both in terms of performance and reliability.
It took us a little over four hours to get to Bruges, driving past Bonn, Liege, Brussels, and Ghent. As with the Malerwinkel, we were using a Rick Steves recommended B&B, the Bruges Bed and Breakfast operated by the Van Nevel-Gevaert family. We had a very spacious room, equipped with a mini-fridge and microwave for 72-Euros a night, including parking for the car. It was centrally located, just a few blocks away from the central square and the heart of the city.
With just two nights to spend in the city, we immediately hit the streets. Old Bruges, inside the city walls is one of those picaresque historical towns steeped in the type of vibe tourists simply love.
We identified where a few of the chocolatiers were located and stopped for the first of what would be a few beers that day.
Later on we had dinner at a small local place, a simple meal but satisfying. Later on we would stop at a local pub for one or more of the delicious Belgian ales so prevalent there, strong beers that would ultimately send us back to our room slightly, but pleasantly intoxicated.
We spent all of the next day hitting the major sites of central Bruges, including the Chocolate Museum, the Church of our Lady and ending up at De Halve Maan (the Half Moon) Brewery. Records show that a brewery had existed on or near this property since the 1500’s; this one, founded in 1856 by Leon Maes, remains under family control to this day.
Today’s modern brewery operates downstairs, but the upstairs portion of the building contains many elements of the older brewery and provided for a fascinating tour that finished with a sample of today’s brews. It gave us a glimpse of a time when beer was consumed all day, as local water was bad, and for many it also considered a food source. Working conditions were harsh; children often used to clean out the large tanks, secured to a co-worker outside the vat by a rope tied around their ankle so that when the fumes overcame them, they could be pulled out to safety.
One section highlighted the many methods that had been used over time to store and distribute the beer. During one stretch, prior to modern bottling times, syphoning the beer from a large keg filled individual bottles. This was a coveted job, as the employee handling the process would invariably consume small amounts of beer for each bottle filled. Obviously, their bottle-filling shift wouldn’t last all day given the cumulative effects of the process and I don’t believe there was monetary compensation for the job, as the food and alcohol value consumed easily equaled to a days pay.
We finished up the day with dinner at Tom’s Diner, a Rick Steves recommendation and one worth passing on to others. Bistro style food, imaginatively prepared in a charming setting made for a special occasion, a fitting end to two very enjoyable days in Bruges, a city we’ll return to when we visit this year.
The Chocolate Museum: http://www.choco-story.be/ENG/
Church of Our Lady: http://www.onthaalkerk-brugge.be/
De Halve Maan Brewery: http://www.halvemaan.be/index.php?id=13