In Bruges: Part Two

Today the sun came out in Bruges, and it seemed to breathe a whole new lease of life into the city and all who dwelt in her. This was helped in no small part by the fact it was also a “no car” day in the centre, which meant that shop owners could display their wares out on the street, creating something of a carnival atmosphere. Bands and street performers could be found at every turn, and there were food stalls and craft stalls lining the main canals (one of which we couldn’t resist, so in addition to the four large bottles of beer I’m carrying back I also have a huge ceramic tiled plate-when in Bruges..).

We strayed a little off the beaten track this morning and were glad of it. Away from the throngs of tourists there are hidden gems to be found; cute rows of cottages, sprays of beautiful flowers and interesting churches. The architecture in Bruges is stunning, and it’s worth seeking out the back streets to really get a feel for the place and its history. If you walk far enough away from the centre, as we did along Langenstraat, you reach the canal and are greeted by the sight of several windmills, standing tall and proud against the backdrop of the (today very beautiful) sky.

We didn’t make it up the belfry tower, in part because we couldn’t face being caught up in the hordes of tourists queuing to go up it and in part because we decided we’d rather spend our remaining euros on a beer and some lunch. Afterwards we wandered around the chocolate shops one last time before returning to our hotel – the Jan Brito, where we had a lovely ‘knight’ room with beamed ceiling and enjoyed the morning fry ups immensely, but were slightly less enamoured with the ridiculously slow lift and tenuous plug socket connections for charging – to collect our things and make our way to the train station.

It’s been short and sweet, Belgium, but I’ve had a great weekend in your fair land. Until next time.

In Bruges

We arrived in Bruges yesterday evening. It was raining. Almost twenty four hours later I can report the rain has barely ceased. Fortunately, however, there are lots of fun things to do here in spite of the weather – as we have discovered today. This morning, after a hearty cooked breakfast, we walked to the chocolate museum, where we found out lots about the Mayans and their sacrificial activities, and learned about the origins of chocolate and its high ranking amongst the British aristocracy. After a chocolate making demonstration we wandered over to the brewery via some chocolate shops and a tea room, where we sampled chocolate tea (which I rather enjoyed but which the other half was less than enthusiastic about). The next available brewery tour was an hour after we arrived, so we made the most of sampling some local beers whilst we waited. The tour itself was well executed and informative, and afterwards we took full advantage of the beers available in the shop to take home to England for tasting sessions with friends.

Bruges is a funny place-charming and quaint with fantastic architecture and delicious food, yet also so full of tourists as to be, at times, almost soulless. The canals are beautiful but were today oft frequented by rain mac-clad foreigners sitting in boats clutching umbrellas. At every turn there seemed to be a walking tour.

It’s not all bad though. There are still delightful enclaves to be found, and last night’s dinner in a gorgeous haute cuisine canal-side restaurant that we stumbled across was just sublime. It’s now 7.20pm and we’re off in search of seafood and cocktails. Until tomorrow…

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Living in the now

Today I am taking the Eurostar to Brussels to meet my boyfriend. From there we will travel to Bruges, where we will spend two days and nights drinking Belgian beer, eating Belgian food (chocolate and mussels anyone?) and generally enjoying one another’s company, in recognition of the fact we have now ‘officially’ been an item for two years (unofficially about six months longer than that but, like most females of the species, I like to have a specific date on which to celebrate anniversaries). In light of our friend’s recent passing this weekend will be particularly poignant, and I’m determined not to let any of my numerous neuroses and worries creep into this special time we’ve set aside. Similarly, despite his current heavy workload, my boyfriend is planning to leave his work at the train door (he’s already half way there, having left his work mobile on the Eurostar yesterday – oops).

I’ve never been very good at living ‘in the now,’ but if ever there was a reason to do just that it’s Paul’s tragic death two weeks ago. I know I’ve mentioned it a lot on this blog, and I apologise for being repetitive, but it’s profoundly affected my outlook on life and strengthened my resolve not only never to take the people I love for granted, but also to grasp every opportunity that comes my way. This has been a shocking reminder of how short a time we walk this earth, and how quickly life can be snatched away from us, whether we’re ready or not. From this day forward I will do my best to incorporate Paul’s adventurous spirit into my own life choices, as a reminder to seize the day and squeeze every joyful moment out of life that I can.

Cold calls and cupcakes

This morning I came into work determined to blitz my to do list once and for all, so that I might go to Belgium this weekend feeling in control and, dare I say it, ‘on top of’ things. Sadly, however, today was not to be my day. My initial enthusiastic approach was thwarted at every turn. Firstly, I sat down at my desk to find the papers for the hitherto forgotten (in my mind at least) board meeting staring back at me. Then, post three-hour board meeting, I emerged, blinking in the light, to a telephone call from a blocked number which went something like this:

Me: Hello?

Annoying stranger: Hi, yes, I’m calling about your payment protection.

Me: I don’t have any payment protection.

Annoying stranger: But haven’t you recently taken out a loan?

Me: Look, if you’re trying to sell me something I’m really not interested..

AS: No, I’m absolutely not selling anything….

Me: So what are you calling about?

AS: Your recent loan..

Me: But I haven’t taken out a loan.

AS: Really?

Me: Yes, really. Look, I’m not interested in whatever you’re trying to sell me, okay?

AS: But I’m not a salesman, honestly…

Me: Then what are you?

AS (weakly): I’m calling about your loan…

Me: How many times do I have to tell you I’m NOT INTERESTED?

AS (sounding scared now): Um, okay….

Me: Right. GOODBYE (slams receiver down).

I’m not sure my true wrath translates so well in this context but suffice to say I think the poor man might be re-evaluating his career choices from this day forward…

Fortunately the remainder of the afternoon passed without incident and I did manage to make an indent in the To Do list despite the adverse conditions. But the true success of today was the delicious risotto we made for dinner-with peas, beetroot and goats cheese. This was topped off with a bottle of red and two delicious Hummingbird Bakery cupcakes (apple strewsel and tiramisu, since you asked), courtesy of my friend Kaye’s birthday voucher from a year ago, to celebrate two years to the day we ‘officially’ started going out – a low key celebration in light of recent events, but a lovely one nonetheless. Bruges this weekend will be the icing on the (cup)cake. I can’t wait.