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.

Marshmallow dreaming

I would have been good at that marshmallow experiment they used to conduct on children in the ’60s (you know the one, where kids were offered one marshmallow to eat now or two if they waited twenty minutes – to test the effects of delayed gratification). Why? Because I’ll take build up and anticipation over instant gratification any day (unless it involves wine on a Friday night, but that’s another story).

Apologies in advance for stating the obvious, but once you’ve had something pleasurable, whether it be a holiday, birthday party or a cream cake, it’s over – the exception being, of course, if you’re lucky enough to be able to have it over and over again (though surely then you run the risk of being desensitised to the pleasurable outcomes in the long run anyway?) However, if you have to wait for that pleasurable thing, whatever it may be, then when it finally comes around it will not only be all the sweeter, you will also have enjoyed the anticipation of its arrival. Hence the overall experience will have been more gratifying. Or at least I think that’s the theory behind the marshmallow experiment (don’t quote me on that, there’s a reason I never made it beyond undergraduate level in Psychology).

How about this for an example: Most women will know the heady feeling of excitement that accompanies an impulse shopping spree, yet they will also be familiar with the speed with which that excitement wanes and the items become consigned to the back of the wardrobe, ready to be replaced when the next moment of impulse comes around. If they have had to save up for one premium item over the course of several weeks or months, however, the feeling of anticipation will have built up so much that when they do finally have the item in their hands they will cherish and love it for far longer.

Over the years I’ve been known to fall victim to the occasional impulse shopping spree, but by and large my ‘thing’ is not material items such as clothes but rather experiences – because at the end of my life it’s not the clothes I’ll be looking back and reminiscing on. Planning holidays is the perfect example of delayed gratification. From their conception to the moment they eventually come into being they create a buzz of delicious excitement and anticipation. I like booking mini breaks far in advance (not least because it’s so much cheaper, especially if you’re going abroad and need to book flights) and spending the weeks leading up to them daydreaming, imagining walks by beautiful rivers and lazy dinners in the early evening beneath the setting of the sun.

Then, once they’re over you can start the process all over again – it beats buying a new skirt from Hennes any day of the week, at least in my opinion! Now where did I put those marshmallows…