Tuesday, August 30, 2011

One gay beer for my gay friend, one normal beer for me because I am normal.

The Church of Our Lady!

Mass was apparently over by this time, so I went inside for a look around.

Michelangelo's Madonna & Child (below).

This was his only marble sculpture to leave Italy in his lifetime.

The Wikipedia entry says it is behind bulletproof glass, but this appears not to be the case anymore. It's true you cannot get very close, though. From what I recall being told, I think this was a slightly unusual representation because the baby is older, not in her arms and he seems to be about to step away from his mother. But what I know about art history is staggeringly embarrassing.

It's quite massive inside, there's plenty to see.

So definitely worth the time. I imagine seeing mass would have been nice (depending on how long it is, *cough*), I probably should have done that. Next time.

Back out to the Square in search of chocolate shops and snacks!

These guys were neat. They are dressed as statues (goddamn I cannot write that word anymore, I always write "statutes" now) and once you put money in the hat they change position. They change position very slowly and with exact movements.

Neat to watch.

I had read about this place, Cambrinus, online as a yummy stop and ran into it accidentally. Thought it would be a good place for a break.

We all know what this says! It says, "Come On In!"

I was there at an off time of day and the service was still total shit. I think that might just be Europe, most of the time. Cute place, though.

And I would go again because they had an asparagus soup that was transcendental. They seem to be big on asparagus in Bruges and by god, they do right by it.

I had three bags like this from three different shops. I also got a box elsewhere. I think I would try to ask for a box if at all possible. The day I left was unseasonably warm. The quality is so incredible that of course, they don't do well in heat. They survived remarkably well, but not without incident. Luckily, they were all for me anyway. ;)

And if you think I thought the price of beer was a steal, don't get me started on the chocolate. I SHOULD HAVE BOUGHT MORE!! *regrets*

Almost done!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ray, you are about the worst tourist in the whole world.

Oh, Bruges! Well, even the classy places have a few slip-ups. (I mean, the penis is one thing...they just HAD to have that little somethin' extra?!)

Don't worry, I encountered an equally tacky opposite later.

So this was Sunday in Bruges. I tried to go to the Church of Our Lady, but they were having mass. I was invited in, but I felt it might be in better taste to wait, since I wanted to wander around inside.

So I went to the brewery! (Well, you know...Bruges only has so much to do!)

The tours are on the hour. I did not know this and went at 12:08. Good one. I sat in their little courtyard, with the intention of having a snack, but got ignored for 20 minutes. So I ventured out into the courtyard of places just outside the brewery and settled in for fries with mayo and a local brew. (The REAL local brew, apparently.)

Everything is expensive in Europe, so really, I couldn't help but feel how much of a steal all the beers were in Belgium! These are all the beers that would be $10 easy back home. And they were maybe $6 or so, like everything else. The Sam Adams would've cost me more! Location, location, location.

I wish Bruges were closer, that town is my kinda vacation. (Well, don't eat the steak. Seriously, it was sad. But that was later.)

Courtyard! They are probably quite attentive if you are more than one person.

Inside the brewery. Neat place. Very thorough tour. Someone brought their pug on the tour. Seriously. Now I know I am not by nature a dog person, but in Europe, it is CRAZY how Everyone. Brings their dog. Everywhere. This was no exception. And I don't mind or anything, I just...well, it's weird. Even if my cat WERE inclined towards this sort of set-up, I guess I am just the sort of over-protective asshole momma that thinks he should be at home where he's safe. WOW. What an awesome mother I would be. Hmm.


So this is the view from the top of the brewery. The Belfry is certainly tall, but it's on the left. The Church is on the right, so you can see why it's the one you see from the station.

Ok, getting back down in the brewery is another story. For example:

And they aren't fuckin' around:

Don't wear your short skirt. But! At the end...

Tasty tasty.

I then set off in search of the Church, and these girls were playing outside. No idea why they're in costume, maybe it's just fun. I really love their money frog there at the bottom left. ;)

More later, I gotta gets to class!

I'm the guy that does his job. You must be the other guy.

I had the best example of stupid bullshit bureaucracy occur this morning. This shit writes itself.

So I have gone to court every Monday for the past three weeks without incident at screening. (X-raying my bag, going through the metal detector, etc.) Today broke that pattern in glorious fashion.

Security Guard: "Ma'am! Do you have a CAMERA in your bag?"
Ellen Aim: (thinking) "I don't know, maybe." (Probably, my little one.)

Note: This was the part where I should have said, "Oh that thing's busted," or even, "Oh, it has no battery/card/etc." And it didn't have a card! Brain fail.

SG: "You have to take it outside the building."
EA: "..."

I mean, wtf? It's not a dog you tether to something (I never understood that, either, btw) or like I can give it to someone "outside the building."

SG: "What are you here for?"

My answer did not get me to the right Choose Your Own Adventure page.

SG: "Did you drive here?"
EA: "No. Can you just hold it for me here?"
SG: (very brusquely) "NO."
EA: "..."
SG: "There's a cafe across the street. They'll hold it for you."


So I stand there for a moment, and no one is paying attention or giving half a shit, and the thought did cross my mind to just keep heading towards the elevators. EVEN BETTER. You know what I should have done? Gone out and gone around to the back entrance. I shit you not, there are two entrances and you know it wouldn't have come up again.

But I was kinda flipping out because I went outside and I didn't see no goddamn cafe and I needed to get to court. This is my small little digital camera. I really do like it, but I had to do something. So I totally stashed it in tall grass by a tree on the street. At 8:30am in front of a courthouse in downtown Boston. And crossed my fingers.

It gets better.

I went back in, put my backpack through again and went through the metal detector.

SG: "Ma'am, do you have a fork in your bag?"
EA: (patiently) "Yes." (I packed my lunch, which you can also plainly see, asshole.)
SG: "We'll have to take that out, but we'll keep it for you in this drawer."

And I am sorry to say that I DID mumble something under my breath but I ASSURE you it was (maybe?) completely inaudible. Because however infuriatingly fucking stupid this entire exercise was, I still had to get to court.

Better yet, they made me pull up my suit pant legs because I made the detector beep. I have NEVER seen them do that to anyone. I would also point out this is the first time I have not worn a skirt and I can't help but feel I'm being treated differently...as my colleague/friend pointed out (he likes to poke the bear), "It's a man's world here, honey, you all are just here to see the sights."

And I am very happy to say that I recovered both my fork and yes, my camera. I don't know how weird it looked when a girl in a suit bent down and retrieved a camera from the tall grass by the street, but I was happy to have it back.

If working retail and learning how shoplifters think taught me anything, it's that sometimes you can do something totally rash right out in the open and not a single person will notice. (On the other hand, someone is always watching.) So you never know. Yay little camera!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I was not aware that there were any prostitutes in Bruges.

So I never told you about Bruges, really! I went for three days, which is too many but just right for me. I didn't have to rush and I got a chance to have more food, chocolate and beer, so it worked out great. It's hard to sample many beers because they're all Belgium beers with alcohol content of at least 8 or 9% most of the time! So I'd have two and have to take a break and go walk around to another place further away!

But the train leaves den Haag Holland Spoor bound for Antwerp, where you change trains.

Great station. You have to go up a LOT of escalator stairs to get to the Bruges platform, so no, you aren't going to catch the one leaving five minutes from arrival. (There is one.) But having 30 minutes gives you leisure time...

So you can have your first Belgium waffle! I don't know why I didn't take a picture, it probably would have looked gross, anyway. It was smothered in either regular or white chocolate goop or strawberry topping or whipped cream or probably all of the above. Or plain. I went for white chocolate. It was pretty damn tasty.

I got to Bruges without a map on me, but didn't think I would have a problem. And I was right! It is about a fifteen minute walk from the station to the town center, but you can see the church top from the station and you can follow the masses. Finding my hostel, Charlie Rockets, was a little more challenging. They have city maps all around, however, and that was all I needed.

This is my kind of place, if I am going to be slumming it. It used to be an old cinema, so the place is huge, and now it has been converted into a pool hall/bar/hostel. I walked in but couldn't find where to check in. So I walked up to the bar and asked. He said, "You check in at the bar!" Yeah, baby. My key (which you have to leave with the desk when you go out) had a mini mirrorball attached to it, ftw. And you just have to be back in by 4am. (Or wait til 8am.)

I was worried it would be impossible to sleep and be horrendously loud--I mean, it's on top of a pool hall--but you know what? The sound was completely muffled and it was just fine. Hot water, on the other hand, appeared to be too good for the first floor. We had our own shower (there were 5 other girls in my room and they were all together) but there was a central one in the hall as well, so I just started using the one on the second floor.

Anyway! I set right back out and decided a canal tour was the way to start. You can take in the whole town and relax a little. Summer is the time to go, so there's a bit of a wait, but not a deal-breaker kind of wait.

Pretty place.

Ducks! Mama and babies.

I think most of you have seen my canal tour pics elsewhere, so I won't go too crazy!

This is the hotel from In Bruges, if you'd like to stay there. ;) I wouldn't mind sometime...

After the tour I wanted to do something else before going in search of Belgium beer, so I thought I'd give the Belfry a go.

It was just 4:00, however, when it closes for the day, so I was going to have to save it. Since most other things start to wind down around then and it was going to take me a bit to find anything, I decided to go in search of de Garre, an infamously difficult but worthy pub to find. I thought daylight could only be a plus...

I actually found it fairly easily, mostly since others had posted clues on the interweb...but for perspective, this is the Main Square...(the bell tower is to my immediate left).

And this is not even at its fullest.

This is City Hall, which is between my hostel and the Main Square.

The pub is located between a Gift Shop and a little place with a red awning. You can barely see the alley.

And once you do go through the door, this is the alley (below); if they don't have their menu board out (which they didn't at the time, see it inside the door?), just know that it's the door at the end there...

And I got the last seat in the place, upstairs. It was a table for four, but I didn't have much choice. Two of my chairs were usurped shortly thereafter anyway.

These glasses are actually fairly awkward to hold. But tasty beer.

Inconspicuous shot.

There is a very detailed menu which also seems to have a lot of history in it. However, it also appears to be in Western Flemish.

Of which I speak none. I got a little cheese dish which was meh but acceptable.

Beer #2. Last one here. Oh, and that is not my cheese dish. ;) They bring you cubed cheese with each beer you order. Nice touch.

Afterwards I went to a little joint called L'Estaminet, a restaurant near Astrid Park and very close to my hostel. I had simple French onion soup (decent) and a couple Belgium beers. The place has a ton of vinyl albums along the walls, it's darker and supposedly a big local spot, not much of a touristy one. (Yet I found the write-up in Lonely Planet or something like that.) But nice wind-down to the evening.

I wrapped up the night with a last beer at my pool hall and chatted with others at the bar before hitting the sack. My party-animal roommates did not come back til curfew, 4am, which was great with me because it made for a very quiet night!

The next morning I went out early, around 8am, and the town was very quiet and dead. I got a little tiny breakfast near the bell tower. As part of the little breakfast deal, you can only have ORANGE juice, not apple juice, goddammit. I said I wanted apple juice ANYWAY. So he brought it, convinced I did not understand, and also brought me orange juice AS WELL. Whatever.

Also, I may have bitched before about how precious they are about their liquids in Europe (and let me take a moment here to stress how much I am not exaggerating, thank you). In Holland, when I asked for water, they would bring me a thimble full of water. (Ok, an exaggeration, but not by much.) And the Cokes were 8 oz, not 12. BUT. They would at least bring you tap water most of the time without charging you.

Do not try that shit in Belgium. Just don't even try. I did not. I was forewarned. If you ask for water, you are getting a bottle of water and you are paying 2.50EU and if you don't like it, don't ask for fucking water. I had to start carrying a bottle around with me from the shop.

So anyway. I just wanted something small in my stomach before I climbed the Belfry. I was fine, but I would not eat much if I were you. Certainly nothing heavy. And I certainly wouldn't climb the goddamn tower again, in any case!

I'm glad I did, don't get me wrong. But once was enough. And JESUS, do it EARLY! How people can possibly navigate this during the throes of the busiest part of the day is insane. Towards the top it gets REALLY NARROW and STEEP. (They weren't shittin' in the film!) And even I had to stop often to let others pass who were going down. There is just not room for two people to even pass sometimes. Often.

Also, luckily, there are occasional floors where you can stop and look around or pretend to look around while you catch your breath.

The views are pretty incredible, though. (And see? This wiring goes all around, so you can't off yourself Ken-style.)

And you can see the Basilica Church--the one with Christ's blood...

I think I mentioned before, but these views--or rather the rooftops especially--really reminded me of the ending scene from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

So I am really glad I climbed the Belfry, but it is most certainly something you need do only once in your life...

A pretty big town from up here! And there's City Hall again.

Time for lunch. More later!