I began my thirty-fourth birthday with a pretty severe hangover from the night before. It's been years since I've had such a throbbing head in the morning, especially from such a small amount of beer (two liters over six hours), so I suspect it was more about not having a bottle of water beside my bed like I normally do to stay hydrated at night. Anyway, it was a bit of a slow morning. Brian and I had made tentative plans the night before to maybe go visit the town of Bruges, a little more than an hour away. I was delighted when he showed up with his whole family, his wife, Cloe, and two sons, Aiden and Milo, ages 4 and 0.5 respectively. During the drive to Bruges, the sky got darker and darker, and when we arrived, it was cold and raining. We walked briskly down what the British would call "the high street", a wide pedestrian street full of all the same brand-name stores that line equivalent streets across Europe. By now it was 1:00 PM and I was both hungry and wanted to ensure I was hungry again at 8:00 PM for my special birthday dinner. Once we got to the main town square, we ducked into the first restaurant to ask for a table. The waiter said, "Sorry, we're fully booked. No tables." Rejected and back out in the rain, Brian said, "But there's a table right there!", pointing to the covered, heated terrace of the same restaurant. So we walked around to the terrace and inquired to the very same waiter if we could eat at "that table right there", and he said, "Oh sure, you can eat outside if you'd like." What?? Belgians...
After looking over the menu for a bit, Brian, Cloe and I all ordered the same thing. Aiden ordered a waffle.
It really was a hot soup and stew kind of day. This tomato soup was delicious.
Then came my Flemish Beef Stew, which is prepared by cooking the beef in beer, and is typically served poured over some Belgian fries, but in this case we were given fries on the side to dip or dump into the stew, which I rather preferred. It was wonderful! The perfect cold rainy day meal.
I had chocolate mousse for desert.
By the time we had finished eating, it was 2:30 PM and the sun had come out! We had to leave by 5:00 PM to make it safely home in time for my birthday dinner, so we only had a couple of hours to wander around the town. Brian and Cloe had been there several times before, but it quickly became obvious why they didn't mind returning with me.
Bruges is absolutely gorgeous! I was reminded of the enchanting experience I had in another well preserved medieval town, Saint Émilion, three birthdays ago. Brian and I could barely keep our cameras holstered in such a photogenic place.
This tower plays a central role in the very dark and funny British film, In Bruges.
I enjoyed this square in Bruges much more than Brussels' Grand Place, not to mention that it was about five times bigger and full of horse-drawn tourist buggies.
Cloe wanted to buy some chocolates for her mother, so she took us to her favorite chocolate shop in Bruges (one of dozens). Aiden, her four year old son, kept going on about "chocolate boobies". I wondered what he could be talking about?
I guess anything you can make a mold of, you can make it with chocolate. No doubt there are plenty of more risqué stores that sell chocolate genitalia.
Some chocolate golf clubs.
They were really milking the Halloween theme. Many of the items were quite intricate.
Gah! Count Chocula!
I bought some chocolates for my wife and daughter and then it was time to head to…
…the beer store!
They have a long wall display case with every type of beer and its unique glass.
Aiden was familiar with all the interesting corners of the shop and enjoyed showing me around.
I love this store. I bought about six bottles to take back with me in Spain, a scheme that didn't quite work out as I'd planned...
Bruges has lovely canals. Can you spot the panorama photo stitching anomaly?
I could spend days and days and terabytes of photographs in Bruges and not capture all of its beauty.
In one of the churches (not this one), they have a relic in the form of Christ's blood, a source of medieval wealth.
I loved the horse head and intricate iron work on this church door.
Almost every house had a "virgin and child" statue on it. Here you can see the church steeple reflected in the window.
This dog statue caught my eye.
What a beautiful city. It made me sad that my wife wasn't with me, because she would love it. I'm looking forward to taking her there some day.
The five of us hopped back in the car and drove back to Brussels. I had a very special birthday dinner awaiting me!