Brugee is a fascinating place, starting with the Brugse Zot brewery tour. This centuries old brewery is in the heart of Bruges (The last of 24 breweries still operating in the city) and provides a tour of the brewery as it used to operate. The majority of the brewery operations now happen on 1 floor (consolidated from 4 floors due to technology changes) and all bottling operations happen outside the city due to cost and logistics (Bruges streets are tight and in most places, one way). Our tour guide was wonderful and was full of anecdotes, my favourite being (paraphrased):
In the old days the poor people drank a lot of beer, as much as 8 pints a day to supplement their diet as it was cheap, nutritious and proper meals were hard to come by. In those days, deliveries were by horse drawn carriage to the pubs and to people’s homes. At one point, deliveries were becoming a real problem as delivery times were getting longer and longer and the drivers were getting paid more and more overtime, primarily due to the driver’s stopping off at each bar for a drink – or six. So the brewery owner decided to change up the delivery routes and join one of the drivers for his run. As the horse moved down the street it came to the first pub and stopped. This pub was not on the drivers route and the horse would not budge as the driver became more and more embarrassed. From then on, delivery routes were changed frequently.
The beer was fantastic, rich in flavour and a treat to drink. A great stop that we all found interesting, humorous and enjoyable.
On the tour the guide had 3 or 4 Canadian pins on her jacket. When she found out that we were Canadian she mentioned that the people of Bruges love Canadians – turns our that a regiment from Manitoba liberated the town during WWII:
The 4th Brigade then moved to the southern outskirts of Bruges to assist the 4th Armoured Division in that sector. Fortunately, the enemy withdrew without contesting possession of the city, and the Canadians entered the city to an enthusiastic welcome from the people.
Brugge still has more than 50 Godshuis‘ in place. These are homes where the elderly and poor can stay. Historically they were run by rich patrons or the church. They are characterized by a chapel and small prayer room. Interestingly enough, they were secularized under French rule a long time ago under French rule but continue on.
Brugge is recognized as one of the most well preserved cities in Europe thanks to a few interesting events:
In the 15th century Brugge experienced its heyday as an international center of finance and wealthy trading port. However, when the port silted up at the end of the century Brugge’s fortune began to change with commerce migrating to Antwerp – the golden city of the 16th century. For the next four centuries, the town lay dormant and when the 18th century industrial revolution happened it skipped Brugge. There simply was no money, entrepreneurial spirit or machinery to demolish the old buildings and erect new factories. Nothing revolutionary happened so it all stayed the same – in hindsight, paving the way for today’s prosperity as a historic jewel and tourism favourite.
During WW I a defensive line was built down the Zeebrugge-Bruges-Gent-Terneuzen canal to block off allied troop advances. But the German officer sensed the futility of a bloody ‘Battle for Bruges’ so he called in the mayor and told him in confidence that if the Allies broke through, the Germans would retreat out the back bridges to spare Bruges and prevent being surrounded. This happened and the German’s retreated without harming the city.
During WW II a battery of heavy cannons 18KM from Bruges were ordered to level the town as the allies advanced. Commander Hopman refused to carry out the order as ‘it is the most beautiful city for miles around’ with little military significance. One of the commanding officers agreed and Bruges was spared.
And in the city, chocolate is a centerpiece. The number of chocolate shops that we visited: 15. Below is the first … of many. Although, there is something to be said for ‘Don’t settle for the first’. It was not the best. Good thing that we only bought a little bit at each one. The best chocolate was from Galler although they were very snobby. When my wife said ‘A girlfriend said you have the best chocolate in Belgium’ the guy behind the counter looked up with a bit of a sneer and simply said ‘Yes’ and then turned his back.
You can blame the Brits for making chocolate snobby according to the below plaque in the Chocolate Museum.
England welcomes chocolate with enthusiasm and surrounds it with snobbery. Private clubs for chocolate drinkers appear. These ‘chocolate houses’ were places for drinking chocolate, talking politics, making contacts and gambling. Most clubs were the preserve of men. The first chocolate house opened the doors in 1657. Fifty years later there were more than 2000.
I stopped dead when I saw the below sign and then bee lined for the vendor. What is Oliebollen? Think of it as a Dutch donut. Deep fried dough sprinkled with icing sugar. Personally, it brings back many happy memories of my youth where our greater family would gather together and enjoy Oliebollen while playing in the basement of the church. .. courtesy of my Beppe (grandmother). There were delicious. Why the basement of a church? No house would hold us all. I think I have over 100 first and second cousins.
At the brewery tour the guide also mentioned how the view from the top of the brewery is beautiful thanks to local governments guidelines around keeping building levels at 4 floors and not allowing odd protrusions (like Satellite dishes on roofs). Of course, they then built a concert hall that towers over the city and is a huge, red brick monstrosity. View it here. Ugly.
I found myself walking down the street marvelling at the architecture. It is a beautiful city.
The market square.
Read part 1 here.