Propeller planes, Wup and Belgian Beer!

Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
Trip End Oct 28, 2009

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Flag of Belgium  , West Flanders,
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 1 - Tuesday 22nd September – We had discovered that it was going to be cheaper and quicker for us to catch a plane to Brussels then a train to Brugge rather than catching a train straight from Munich to Brugge.

We got to Munich airport and spent some time there wandering around and having a small lunch before we went to our gate. We were flying Brussels Air who I had never heard of but was comfortable with seeing as they are a subsidiary of Lufthansa.

At our gate we looked out the window and I saw a nice big Lufthansa Boeing 737 waiting for us and I felt good. We handed over our boarding passes and went down the stairs.

At the bottom of the stairs we found not a 737, but a bus to take us to our plane. I was still feeling ok though. Even when we pulled up next to four Lufthansa Regional planes and one of them was a 737 and the other 3 were propeller planes, I was still confident that we would be on the 737. It was only when I saw the girl at the door to one of the propeller planes give the thumbs up to the bus driver that I started to freak out.

I told Witek that I would not get on a propeller plane and he wanted to know what I was going to do. I told him I was going to get my luggage and get the train instead.

I didn't know how this had happened, I was sure that I had booked a 737!

I was in tears by now as the realization that the logistics involved in getting my luggage off of the plane were probably a bit much. I was sobbing and repeating 'I don’t want to get on a propeller pane!’ as we got off the bus and on to the plane. I tried to control myself as we went through the door to the plane but the flight attendant could see I was upset and asked me what was wrong. I repeated my little line ‘I don’t want to get on a propeller plane!’

I was so embarrassed but so scared at the same time, it was hard to know what to do!

She was very sympathetic and asked if I wanted to come into the cockpit and meet the pilots. I said no (how even more embarrassing!!) but she persuaded me to follow her in there.

She introduced me to the pilots and they were so nice. The Captain told me he used to fly Airbuses but he actually preferred flying these ‘Dash’ planes as they handled the turbulence and everything so much better. The plane itself was only actually 7 years old. The Captain had been flying for 15 years and he promised me that it would be a smooth flight and that we would get there safely. I told him he had better or I would be the first one to jump in the cockpit and tell him off.

With all this I decided that I would grin and bear it, and the flight attendant kindly got me a glass of bubbles to help calm my nerves. I was most embarrassed by my own behaviour but I had sworn that I wouldn’t ever get on a plane with propellers and here we were! I had even teased Narelle and Tony about them having to take a propeller plane to the Greek Islands, so maybe it was just Karma!

Our seats happened to be right next to the wheels and the propellers so I had a really good view to make sure that everything was going okay.

The flight attendants were regularly checking on me which only added to my embarrassment! They were so nice though and made me feel so much better. I had to laugh when one of them told me that they often get people who get nervous about the propeller planes and ask them why they are flying planes from World War II!

The flight itself was actually really good. Take off and landing were very smooth and you actually ascend quicker as the plane is lighter. It is still a decent sized plane with 80 passengers, but it is a lot smaller than a jet plane. We had very slight turbulence but it was over almost as soon as it began.

In Brussels I thanked the crew and in hindsight I wish I had taken a photo with them to commemorate my first propeller plane flight.

We then made our way to the train station to get our plane to Brugge and we were on our way! The train took us through the inner suburbs of Brussels and since this was our first taste of Belgium I was looking out of the window at our surroundings.

One particular sight caught my eye, I was looking out the window and I saw a scantily clad girl leaning against a bench through one of the windows of a building we passed! I did a double take and said to Witek ‘Did you see that?’ before looking back out the window. There I saw window after window of scantily clad women! We were going through the red light district of Brussels! I thought that it was only Amsterdam that had this, but I guess Brussels have their piece as well!

We arrived in Brugge and I pulled out the directions to our accommodation. We weren’t far from the train station so it was pretty easy but it was then that I noticed the request that we let them know our arrival time a month before – whoops! Hadn’t done that! We were staying in another B&B so I hoped they were going to be home.

Our walk from the station was really pretty along a tree lined canal. We found our accommodation on a dead end street on it’s own opposite the canal. It was a really pretty spot.

We rang the bell and there was no answer – whoops! I started going through my phone trying to find their phone number but fortunately at that moment Kevin, one of the owners, turned up.

He was really lovely and showed us in to our room. The house is a big townhouse they had gutted completely then turned into a four room B&B on the upper levels and their home on the lower levels. Our room was lovely, nicely decorated and a good size with a little balcony overlooking the street and the canal. We also met Wup very briefly for the first time. Wup is one of their three cats, he is tiny and black and had decided to make himself comfortable on our bed before Kevin threw him out the door. Apparently they had people filming in the B&B earlier that day and perhaps a door had been left open, allowing Wup to venture into rooms he is not normally allowed!

We pretty much dropped our stuff and went straight out to find the nearest supermarket and to see the town. Kevin had told us that it would shut at about 6pm so we had to hurry in there as it was already 5:30pm.

We took in the sights on our way and I immediately loved the place. It is a gorgeous little town, full of cobblestone streets and canals, almost like a mini Venice and without the tourists.

We got our water and some Belgian chocolate and made our way back to our accommodation to sort out dinner. The owners, Kevin and Tiny, recommended a small restaurant near them where they said that they ate regularly so we went to check it out.

It was a nice place with a bar, a restaurant and an outdoor beer garden. We had nice huge meals that we struggled to finish and we enjoyed a good Aussie shiraz with it.

Day 2 – Wednesday 23rd September – We awoke to our alarms so that we would make the 8:30 breakfast, which was my only complaint about this place. The breakfast was great but the 8:30am set time was a bit annoying, but at least you were up early to start the day this way.

Our first stop was the tourist office, we had decided to rent bikes for the day and see all the sights but we wanted to get some advice on where to go and what to see. The guy there was very helpful by drawing a path on our map for us to follow and circling all of the highlights.

We went and sorted out bikes at the bike hire place and set off for our first stop which was one of the churches in town. There was nothing significant about it except that the guy at the tourist office had recommended it so we figured we would take a look. It had been a little while since our last church!

I was looking forward to our next stop – the chocolate museum! The first part of the museum was filled with sculptures made from chocolate, the largest was a life size sculpture of Barack Obama. I have no idea how they did it but it was very impressive! They also had sculptures of cats, fairytale characters, and other abstract works.

The next part of the museum was the praline making demonstration which was actually quite fascinating. If time permits I will be trying my hand at pralines next Easter! The best part of course was that you could have a taste test at the end!

The rest of the museum was basically about the history of chocolate and was actually quite interesting, we took our time wandering through the displays and reading all the history and looking at the antique and ancient chocolate accessories.

To the end of town we went from here to find the four windmills, one of which was supposed to be accessible and still functioning. On our arrival at the windmills we found this to be untrue, but they were still pretty to look at so we decided that the pub opposite was a good place to stop for lunch.

After lunch it was back into town and time for the brewery tour! There is only one brewery left in Brugge and they run regular tours, you can smell the place before you see it too!

The lady who ran the tour was funny, she had a dry wit and at first you thought she was going to recite the whole thing in the one tone and never smile. Then she cracked her first joke and you wondered whether it was deliberate until you saw the twinkle in her eye and the slight upturn in the corner of her mouth. At the end of each section she then had to repeat her spiel in French for the group behind us so she instructed us in her thick accent to ‘go to the next spot and there, wait for me’. In one part of the tour you need to duck quite a bit as the doorway was only about 5ft tall and we were warned to duck so as not to ‘damage the building’.

The end of the tour was obviously the part we were all looking forward to the most, where we got to sample a beer! She told us that we never should complain about the amount of head on a beer in Belgium (and from what I have seen this applies to most of Europe!) as it is there so that you cannot drink your beer straight away and you therefore have time to ‘build your relationship with your beer!’ Very funny!

After the brewery tour we went to visit the diamond museum where I hoped to see some really big rocks, but I was severely disappointed. All of the big diamonds in there were replicas. We did have a chance to learn a bit more about diamonds though, apparently Brugge was a big diamond polishing town at one stage, hence the museum. We also had a chance to examine diamonds for the four c’s, cut, clarity, colour and carat, though again they were replicas. I put my engagement ring under the microscope here and saw what a cheap bastard Witek really is. Nah, he did all right actually! J

We next visited ‘Minniwater’, or ‘The Lake of Love’ which is basically a very pretty lake in Brugge. We sat there for a while watching the boats and the birdlife and just enjoying the peace. We had found a nice quiet little place behind some trees where we could sit on the edge and just watch.

The bikes needed to go back by now so we dropped them off then we went back to a place we had found in the restaurant book earlier that day. It was called Cambrinus, named after the ‘King of Beer’ and home to over 400 different types of beer. We had to give this a go!

We started with a couple of very good Belgian beers while we perused the extensive menu. I had a fruit one as believe it or not I am sometimes tiring of beer after all this beer drinking in Europe! Witek had a blonde that was very good.

We went through the whole menu, bookmarking beers we liked the sound of as we went. Every beer had details next to it of the origin and the flavours and the alcohol content.

We both decided on a fruit beer, thinking that was a pretty safe bet. Witek chose one with all different types of berries in it, and I chose one that was described as ‘unique’ with real strawberries. Witek’s was very nice, but one sip of mine told me that yes, it was very ‘unique’. I almost choked on the bitter taste! Blech, I still can taste it and shudder as I write this five days later!!

Witek felt bad for me and said he would help me drink it, but the look on his face told me that he wasn’t a big fan either. I had paid double the price of the other beers for this one though (I guess because of it’s ‘uniqueness’) so I was determined to finish it! I approached the bar and asked them to add some sugar to it, so the barman added some Grenadine.

I took it back to our table and had a sip and found it was about 5% better but still pretty foul. I felt bad but I just couldn’t drink it. On perusing the menu I noticed a Muscat beer, which I figured would be very sweet. For those that aren’t familiar with Muscat, it is a grape variety used to make very sweet wine and also dessert wines. I have never found a Muscat wine that I didn’t like – so far!

I gave the horrible strawberry beer back to the waiter and asked for the Muscat beer, it only came in a 750ml bottle so Witek agreed to share it with me. It was also quite expensive compared to the other beers, probably about double. We called it another birthday present J

They bought out the bottle and it was in a kind of champagne bottle so I thought that was a good sign. He popped the cork and we poured each other a glass and took a sniff. It smelled scarily like the horrible strawberry beer so we were a little apprehensive. I took the first sip. It was horrible! Not as horrible as the strawberry beer, but pretty horrible! It was the same bitter taste. We were determined to finish the bottle though seeing as we had paid so much for it, so we got by holding our noses each time we took a sip. Blech!

We thought we would leave it there and not push our luck so we went in search of a place for dinner. I had read about an Italian place that was supposed to be quite good and inexpensive so we checked it out. Unfortunately it was shut so we wandered the streets looking for somewhere else. There was a wine bar in the same book as the Italian restaurant and it was on the same street, so we went in to have a look.

It was a tiny little bar with a very limited menu but I decided to peruse the wine list and see what was on offer. If they had a really good red I was prepared to overlook these two issues. Unfortunately I didn’t recognize one single wine on the menu, and from what I could see they were all by the bottle, not the glass. After our experience with the Muscat beer we were not prepared to fork out for a bottle of wine we weren’t sure about, especially since these bottles weren’t cheap, so we left.

Witek told me after that the guy at the bar at muttered ‘penny pinchers’ as we walked out, so I am very glad that we didn’t stay. How rude!

We ended up deciding on an Italian restaurant overlooking the canal. It had a really pretty view and the food wasn’t too bad. We did manage to get hold of a nice glass of white wine each too, so that was a relief after all of the horrible beer!

Day 3 – Thursday 24th September – Today we had decided to hire the bikes again and cycle out to Damme, a little town a few kilometres from Brugge. We had been told that the ride out there is very beautiful, so the plan was to cycle out there, have some lunch, then cycle back and see the sights we had missed the day before.

We went and hired our bikes and set off on our way. We took the outer city route to get to the road to Damme so that we could ride alongside the canal the whole way. It was really pretty with lots of trees, people walking or running or cycling and lots of dogs running around. It was nice and peaceful.

Across the canal and on the road to Damme from here! This was even more peaceful, we had views of farms and paddocks, a canal all the way along, sheep and cows, and even the occasional paddle steamer. It was a really enjoyable, easy ride.

Once in Damme we went down the main street to see what was going on. Not much! I was hungry by now so we stopped at a patisserie/ restaurant to have some lunch. We sat out the front on some nice couches and I went out to use the bathroom. Out the back of the restaurant I found an outdoor eating area which I thought would be nice and quiet so when I got back to Witek I suggested that we move out there. We debated the move as we had already ordered but it was a bit noisy by the road.

It was nice out there until our drinks came and the European wasps joined us! We swatted them away as they are a common nuisance in Europe and we have gotten used to them. At home I would normally go inside as I am not very fond of them at all! Having said this, there was one particular wasp that was particularly persistent and wouldn’t leave me alone! He actually buzzed about my ear and I launched out of my chair and did a little dance around the place! We moved back out the front after that!

When the waiter came to bring our bill I asked him where the main square and the main part of town was and he looked at me strangely and said ‘this is it’. Whoops!

We cycled around town and explored a bit more but there really wasn’t much at all! So we went back to Brugge via a little back path that went past some other fields we hadn’t seen before.

Back in Brugge there were two things we wanted to see, both of them churches. One of them held Michelangelo’s Virgin and Son, and the other held a vestibule containing the blood of Jesus Christ.

We went to see the Virgin and Son first as the Basilica of the Holy Blood wasn’t open yet. Witek thought he knew what the sculpture looked like but when we got there it wasn’t the one he thought. It was still a very impressive sculpture though, as is all of Michelangelo’s work really!

It was time to go and see the Basilica of the Holy Blood after this, so we cycled our way over there. We have both become somewhat nifty on the treadlys over here!

When you go in there is a line of people waiting to see the vestibule, and it turns out what they do is let each person come up one at a time and put their hands on it and say a prayer. There is a lady supervising and she wipes it with disinfectant after each person comes up. I was a bit concerned about all of this because if I have my hands on it then how would I see in? I watched another girl tackle the problem by just putting her finger tips on it and taking a good nosey.

When my turn came I went up the stairs and put my donation in the box, hoping they wouldn’t see it was only 50 cents! I needed to go to the bank! I went and put my fingertips on the vestibule, it’s kind of like a glass cylinder really and what I think is supposed to be inside it is a piece of the cross that Jesus died on with his blood on it. There was definitely a tinge of red to it but I’m not authorized to say whether it was the real deal or not. All the same I said a little prayer for Obelix, it can’t hurt! When we got outside Witek told me he said a prayer for Obelix too and I thought that was nice that we were both on the same page.

After this we decided to go and find the bar with 400 beers again as next door to it was a bottle shop with 600 different beers! We thought it might be nice to grab a couple of Belgian beers and sit by the canal and watch the goings on.

On the way to the bottle shop we went through a square where there was some filming going on, so we joined the gathering crowd to take a look. There wasn’t much going on, it was apparently some Belgian crime series and they were just filming two actors walking and talking basically. It was something to look at for a minute!

At the beer shop we had a chat to the guy behind the counter and he told us that the tv show had shut down the whole street a couple of weeks earlier to film a scene!

We grabbed a couple of bottles of beer each and went and pulled up a piece of canal bank to sit on. It was a nice spot near where we had eaten dinner the night before. Of course no sooner had we put the beers down did I managed to knock Witek’s over and shatter it on the concrete! Typical of me on this trip really! That meant I had to share one of mine with him unfortunately.

We sat there for about an hour and just talked and enjoyed our surroundings. Then with our beers finished we decided to go back and get another couple and then go down to the ‘Lake of Love’ and watch the swans and the ducks for a while.

Animals are so entertaining to watch! The ducks fight each other for territory, the swans fight each other for territory, then the ducks and the swans fight each other! No one seems to know who is fighting who! They all kept us very amused for another hour with their actions and all the funny noises they made.

It was time to take the bikes back after this as they had to be back by 7pm, bit of a shame really ass it was quite relaxing just sitting and watching and chatting.

We had dinner at the same place as we did the first night, though we were careful to order food that we thought would come in smaller portions. Fail. Even though I only ordered a veggie stir fry it came out in a huge plate and I couldn’t even eat half of it!

Back at our accommodation Wup was waiting for us so we gave him a bit of a cuddle and a pat and then I decided to bring him up to our room. I was missing our cats a lot and I wanted some cat cuddles. He was very affectionate and gave lots of purrs and cuddles before I took him back outside in fear that he might get in trouble for being in our room!
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