A few years ago, Sue and I had a good shooftee at Venice. A few days ago it was Amsterdam’s turn and now we are at Bruges, known, notably by the Belgium Tourist Board, as ‘The Venice of the North’. All those cities have canals and so does Exmouth Western Oz. Exmouth’s canals only come during the cyclone season from November to April albeit a few years ago, Cyclone Quang came by in May thus breaking the rules and causing the Bureau of Meteorology to go back to their Southern Oscillation Charts and to employing a Chinese Tea Leaf Reader. I’ve sat thru three Exmouth cyclones the first two during the construction period of the town and base when I was one of the many mentally unbalanced people working there. Actually, during the daytime, sunlight period of the day, we were all reasonable sane. Come knock off and the wet canteen shutters going up, the Planet of the Apes came out to play. Rhesus monkeys, Gibbon monkeys, Pygmy monkeys and as the night wore on, Howler, Baboon and eventually several Silverbacks evolved which led to a bit of Biffo. I was long asleep by that time. Construction camps at night were no place for the faint hearted. I was ‘faint hearted’.
Exmouth’s ‘canals’ come to life in cyclones due to the copious amount of rain that falls, filling long slumbering rock depressions, billabongs, creeks, valleys, pouring down off Cape Range in sheets as long dormant waterfalls come to life, filling everything especially those creeks, washing away any debri, particularly about town through mans, Councils, attempt to train what had been going on for hundreds of thousands of years. The creek water comes down in waves all dirty bubbling and roaring into Exmouth Gulf and along the Ningaloo Reef changing course here and there all dependant on the volume. Rocks all smooth from several hundred thousand years of being tumbled about and shaped by the water, move further along in the creek bed towards the sea. Afterwards, the wind still whistling, trees bowing down in homage, with bits of roofing iron, timber, piping anything not tied down, distributed by the wind about the streets and wider area. My mate John Ellard and I sat in our Donga, which was tied down to concrete blocks by two inch diameter cables. The Donga still managing to rock, roll and jump about but a carton of beer and youth held fear at bay. Afterwards, with roads cut, the town is a canal city albeit for a short period of time. Sonny boy, surely you’re pulling my leg, ‘No mum, thats all dinkum as Gods my witness’ I dont think God has time to be your witness, so be a good boy and top up your Mums sherry glass dearie. ‘Yes Mum’.
We are looking forward to Brugge’s as our train speeds us thru the Dutch countryside all green, industrial areas, hundreds of hectares of glass houses where tulips blossom, wind turbines, small villages, crops, pasture, cows grazing which brings to mind my wife’s expertise in the area of cow ID. Lovely Susie knows all the moo cow breeds and delights in letting me know that there, those cows there, No, look that way stupo, are Friesian or Angus, or Hereford, Charolais, Simmental or Belted Galloway. She delights in doing this when after near thirty years together, the conversation well near dry, I’m away with the fairies in Walter Mitty mode, albeit driving the car or daydreaming in my train seat, when she will shout in my ear, Look sweetness, theres a Belted Galloway. She does not understand that Im dreaming and in fact piloting a disabled A380 into Perth Airport, with 457 passengers whose lives are in my hands. Both pilots are dead. Its up to me. My family are at Perth airport distraught and crying. Elle McPherson is on-board in First Class and just as she comes into the cockpit to wish me well in landing the aircraft, presenting me with a gift pack of her personal signed lingerie, I spy her private mobile number jammed in a pink bra, I hear a loud excited shout from my left, Theres a Belted Galloway.
We have a 36 minute wait at Belgiums Antwerp Train Station partly set in a fantastical Walt Disney wonderland palace that was the initial train station. Sensitively added to by new works having some four levels of rail tracks, we achieve our next train platform via deciphering Belgian Speak monitors, three escalators and no terse words. I’m learning. Good sonny boy, I did not raise you to talk harshly to women, ‘Yes Mom’.
Antwerp to Brugge an hour and a half train trip and we sit right at the back of train to find ageing New Zealanders Doug and Hillary perched there with a bag of eating goodies, two large suitcases, two smaller legal ‘plane’ sized suitcases and two pack packs. After the usual jokes about rugby, cricket, sheep, you’ve had five prime ministers, I needed to shut up. They put their nose bags on and start chomping thru what looks like extra large Subway Rolls followed by pastry’s and something unidentifiable, possibly Possum Legs. She, Hillary, already overweight and having to draw breath between each giant bite, talks non stop about her, and her pack horse Doug’s, travelling adventures all about the planet. As I tried to doze, dream and re-connect with Elle McPherson, I think she mentioned that she had a trip to Mars with Matt Damon.
Brugge ‘Old City’ is another World Heritage site just like Exmouth’s Cape Range. With a population of 117,073, some 20,000 of whom live in the ‘Old City’, an oval shaped area about 1,100 x 700 metres. Divided, segmented up by a wild, disorganised, random cobblestoned tippsy spider web of narrow cobblestoned Straat’s, a handful of narrow twisting canals, one or two of them disappearing under roads to re-appear after passing under houses, roads and into Black Holes. With hundreds of medieval 3/4/5 storey houses, churches, cathedrals, palaces and municipal buildings, if you are into medieval buildings, get your Jelly Beans here.
Having been fought over for oinks and oinks, the place started off with Bronze age peoples, then Iron age, then Pirates, Julius Caesar, Gallo Romans, Franks, then along came Count Baldwin the First of Flanders who settled things down a bit. The Vikings were in there somewhere as well, as they sailed south to give the Poms a bit of a hurry up. In 1302 there occurred in Brugge, the ‘Nocturnal Massacre of the French Garrison’ this by a rag tag local Flemish militia. Then they, and the rest of the able bodies local population joined forces with the Count of Flanders against the French culminating in victory at the ‘Battle of the Golden Spur’. Followed by the opening of several hundred breweries. In the towns main square, and its a big big cobblestoned square, there sits up on a large solid plinth, statues of Jan Breydelt and Pieter de Coninck leaders of the uprising. Good research sonny boy but I got a bit confused about the Count of Flanders. ‘Sorry Mum, I will try and fix that in the final draft. Another sherry whilst Dad’s out?’ Yes please dearie.
Brugge’s most famous landmark, well so the tourist brochures say, is its 13th century Belfry which houses a Carillion of 48 bells. The head ding dong master, officially known as a ‘Carillonneur’, employed by the city, gives concerts on a regular basis. I assume he is a drinker and goes along ding donging when he feels like it. Nothing organised, thats too civil.
In the 15th century, when the city was in a bit of a sorry state, along came ‘Phillip the Good’ who set up court in Brugge providing the city with some prestige, oomph, razzmatazz and a ‘Carillonneur’ who ding donged at regular times. Here also is the Church of Our Lady which has a brick spire reaching 115.6 metres (379 feet) making it the worlds 2nd highest brick tower. Mind you, theres towers, spires, smoke stacks and smoke and mirrors. Let Our Lady have her way. ‘Yes Mum’.
Overflowing with interesting streetscapes, squares of all shapes and sizes, every one a delight, sculptures, statues, fountains, seating areas, huge shady trees, its a beguiling, surprising place to those used to 21st century streetscapes in Oz towns and spinifex mulga scenes out bush. Wandering about, down narrow laneways which open up to a small square wheres theres a cafe, people sitting, dogs by their side, a historic small building with the most interesting over embellished facade, one is left gaping and comparing it with Amsterdam, Venice and other Medieval cities. Brugge wins. If only for the lack of crowds, the relative safety walking, the many squares which ‘drag’ those interested away from the main tourist town ‘hotspots’.
The main ‘market square’ with its statues, ringed by cafes, umbrellas and awnings, throbbing with life, horse drawn carriages to rent, municipal buildings from oinks past, all vibrant, with radiating out in many directions some 7/8 streets, crammed with retailers having all the designer clothes, footwear, jewellery that one could wish for, at a price. A bit further along, small cafes, ice cream shops, waffle shops, chocolate shops, beer shops displaying Belgiums prowess at chocolate making and beer brewing. Everywhere, shops display the hundreds of differing Belgium beers most of them starting at 6% alcohol by volume. Whilst having a midday smoko at Delaneys Irish Inn (its just off Hoogstraat) with my bride, Susan, yeh I know this is Brugge Belgium and we are in an Irish themed pub, I’m having a ‘Naked Grouse’ as its notes on the ‘drinks menu’ state that it has Buttery Toffee and malty on the nose, rich fudge and cooking apples on the taste. ‘How could one pass that up Dad. Eh?’ Susan has a G & T, as I note that the beers on the drinks menu are bordering on NASA rocket fuel. The lowest alcohol beer is a Affigem Blond at 6.8%, then a Duvel 8.5%, Delirium Tremor (really) at 8.5% and a Golden Draak at 10.5%. But the Trappist Monks win with a Rochefort 10 at 11.3% which comes with a small bag containing a set of rosary beads and 11.3 plenary indulgences all to improve your chances with Saint Petar at the Pearly Gates. Arrgg.
We are staying in a small ‘hotel’, the Anselmus on Riddersstraat 15, which we booked on line and which seems to have had its website photo shopped by Mbunga in Mumbai. The rooms looked good, no, we thought it had a lift, no, the en-suite looked spacious, no, in fact, ours has one of those ancient vinyl folding doors that died some years ago. Plus, the plumbing gurgles, splutters and chuckles when somebody within the building site down to have a chat to the Pope. But the place is spotlessly clean with Rolly and Magda, the hosts come proprietors, an inquisitive couple who seem to be watching carefully what their charges do. We feel like we are being spied on with a report to be sent to ASIO. Breakfast was included and we assumed poached eggs, snaggers, hash brown, bacon blah blah. No. Its cereals, fruit, cheese, cakes (iced) even iced donuts, and waffles with syrupy chocolate to pour over, plus chocolate sprinkles. There is an egg, one only boiled. ‘Oh well Mum, one cannot have everything.’ Yes dear. Now what were you saying about the Count of Flanders?
Second morning in Brugge we are off to the Laundromat. Its clean, good, apart from a very thin, height deprived bespeckled Woody Allen character who has two washing machines, one working, both chokas with what seems to be mattresses. He fidgets about, then asks in broken english You give me ten euro. I pay you right back. Oh yeh I think, I give you ten euro and you give it right back. Hmm. This bloke is deranged. But he keeps on. You must have money. You give me ten euro. No again. He sits and sulks, fidgits. Sue sitting a bit away the other side of the door, is looking worried. Not to mention me. He tries a third time. No. Goes outside for a minute back in, sits sulks. Then he uses his foot to close the door to our escape route. We go to our clothes drier which has yet to finish its cycle, clothes out, folded and off leaving Woody to sulk.
The third/fourth rather odd Brugge person was down by the main canal where we sat on a bench to have our evening dins. Canned Mackerel fillets, chopped tomatoes, cheese slices, spinach leaves and a wholemeal baguette sliced and spread with Avocado. Just as we are ready to put our goodies together, a Large Chocolate Labrador Dog comes out of nowhere, pokes its nose into OUR food and I, holding a litre bottle of water, try to push it away with the bottle. It has two owner’s with it does Large Chocolate Labrador Dog, no lead on and one of the owners, a small nuggety man about 50, arks up in Belgium speak which I have translated as You no touch my dog. You no hit my dog. He, Large Chocolate Labrador Dog owner, takes an angry stance in front of us. I’m thinking rapidly, it was not our doing. Here we were sitting quietly when your dog poked its nose into our din dins. End of story. I’m a pacifist and have never ever been in a fight, verbal yes, sort of, fistycuffs no.
So I said ‘Sorry mate, our fault, can I deposit several hundred thousand into your bank account and shove this bench up your arse’. We quickly made up our baguette, and departed leaving the Large Chocolate Labrador Dog and his entourage. Fighting eh, have you forgotten sonny boy, when your father had you enrolled in the boxing club at Highgate School. ‘Yes mum, I think he did that because he thought I would turn out a woose’. Well son, you were never any good at it. ‘No Mum, as I recollect, I used to climb into the ring, immediately lie down and count to ten’. Very good son. Now, as your Dads out, see if you can find me a cigarette. Theres a good boy.
Ooroo from Des and Sue.