Brugge – the Venice of the North

“I’ve seen a couple of Americans,” rings out over the din in the bar in a thick Irish accent. We met Tim, Joanne, Dave and Patrice backpacking through Central America and haven’t seen them since we parted ways in Boquete, Panama in October 2008.

Turns out Brugge and Irish kids have one distinct factor in common: beer. We commemorate our arrival in the overpriced hotel bar and continue the celebration in a tiny local haunt we find beyond the tourist areas. Turns out Brugge and Chris have one distinct factor in common, too: lasagna.

Early the next morning, C and I steal away for a quiet walk outside the canals through idyllic neighborhoods. We eat pastries and drink bold coffee. Brugge is lovely in the morning before the throngs of tourists either awaken from drunken slumber or arrive by the busloads.

We catch a tour of De Halve Maan (The Half Moon) Brewery with our dear Irish friends. Together we climb up and down what seems like thousands of tiny steel steps and view brewing equipment of yesterday and today. This is the last operating brewery in Brugge, owned by the sixth generation of an old brewing family. Our reward for climbing all those steps? A free beer! Well okay, and a phenomenal panoramic view of the quaint little town.

As we enjoy our free beers in the brewery’s sun-filled café, I reflect back on how we met these friends during a coffee plantation tour in Panama (see the Where We’d Live if We Could entry from our T&C in Central America blog). Much like this moment, following that tour we gathered in the sun and sampled the coffee and made plans for future adventures together—and here we are.

For lunch that day and dinner that night and lunch the next day, Chris again eats lasagna. He claims that he feels some need to advise future travelers to Brugge on where to get the best, cheapest lasagna in town. However, each meal is accompanied by Duvels (beer named after the devil) and C, for the life of him, can’t remember which lasagna he likes best.

In addition to beer and lasagna, the lot of us consumes inordinate amounts of fresh, locally made Belgian chocolate. And who would think that amid all these indulgences exist art, architecture and culture so cherished by locals that restoration is a top city priority?

We raise a few last brews before we part ways with Tim, Joanne, Dave and Patrice. As they board their train for Brussels and C and I wait for our train to Antwerp, he says something about how the best friendships can pick up right where they left off. And that he probably won’t have lasagna again for awhile.

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