I know it’s Saturday but I need to get through this. Honestly, it gets hard to keep up when I’m skipping and chopping up the days. But, that being said, I’m really enjoying my own blog walking down this path. The BCPF and I talk about our honeymoon all the time but these accounts from when it happened, is fascinating to me. I honestly don’t go back to read my own blog much, so this is funny how I chose to word things. Anywhat! Back to the story. And I will warn you, this is a long one.:
So, Disneyland Paris and Dinner in Bespin down, the last day in Paris was a welcome change. Yes, there would be walking but that’s okay, it was a little more relaxed than what we’d done up to then. We had a tour scheduled for that day, A Bohemian Walking Tour, and we had to meet up with the group at The Pantheon. That fact alone was great; it’s a world famous landmark in, and of, itself. But, first, we had to get there.
We took the Métro from Opéra to Maubert-Mutualité station and emptied into a street market, conveniently called Maubert-Mutualité Market. Now, we can maneuver Métro routes like nobody’s business, but once we get off the rail and onto the streets, that’s the only time I have trouble getting around. Orientation is the problem, not map reading. I can read the maps but figuring out which direction is east/west/north/south is the problem. We decided we were early enough before our tour that we could afford to explore and wander about (we were about an hour and a half ahead of time). The BCPF picked a direction and we went that way.
This is was the mother lode of the stuff we look for: neighborhood streets, shops, bakeries, butcher shops, apartments, flower shops, etc. I have said it before, we look for the neighborhoods, to see how the natives live. That means more to us than sightseeing, although, that’s fun, too. That’s why we take the walking tours, we get to see how lives are lived as well as history. That’s what we had, here. Commercialism and tourist areas were at an absolute minimum, here; right in the Latin Quarter. Parisian life, indeed. So upon looking for The Pantheon we figured we’d eat. A street crossing lent a number of options, including a bakery where people were piling in and out (quite quickly, may I add). We decided on Le Petit Cardinal and sat on the sidewalk watching schoolkids walking in small groups together to school with their backpacks, young executives on bicycles going to work, men and women in business attire riding scooters; a bit of everything.
When the server came to take our order and before she could say more than bonjour, I told her immediately, “je ne parle pas français (I don’t speak French).” She stopped in her tracks, turned on a dime and went back inside, only to reemerge with an English menu. The BCPF took the usual, croque madame, and I took a flatbread pizza. We ate, taking in the great sunny day, watching life hustle and bustle by – hectic, yet subtle – whilst the lunch crowd moved in around us. Between bites, I noticed a directional sign across the street indicating the direction of The Pantheon… BINGO! We paid and moved on towards the landmark.
Up a few hills and past a school, in which a shload of high schoolers were sitting about with books, bag lunches and being cool little Parisian hipsters. We finally made it to The Pantheon. The Pantheon is an 18th Century former church dedicated to St. Genevive. It also serves as a necropolis and has since become a memorial to some of history’s greats including Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Louis Braille, Alexandre Dumas and Marie Curie. It’s of Gothic architecture and looks quite Greek, at least to me. We wandered around it because we were still about 20 minutes before the tour. There was this crazy statue that was a temporary exhibit of a very large, naked, Asian-appearing man. Oddly, enough, he is shaped just like me, so here’s a picture of me standing next to it. I wish we had taken a pic of what it was, but we didn’t.
So we meandered around the gates of The Pantheon until we saw other people who appeared to be tourists and we inquired if they were waiting on a tour. They were a group of 7 friends (some couples) from Australia. They said they were and then a short, but personable young man popped up and indicated that he was our tour guide. He asked if he could finish his cigarette and coffee as he had been eating his lunch, mixing with the other locals enjoying their surroundings. None of us had any problems with that and after he prepared himself, we learned his name was Arthur. That was my grandfather’s name, so I found it pretty awesome. He gave us a little history of The Pantheon and told us that university was only about $150 per semester, which is depressing, really, knowing what I owe for college and I’m feeling more and more and more like my degree is not only useless, but a scam. Enough of that, though.
Arthur took us through the streets of the Latin Quarter and told us stories of architecture, history, landmarks. We stopped at the French Senate that is inside Luxembourg Palace located at Luxembourg Gardens. This is one absolutely beautiful building, garden and, obviously, popular destination for Parisians and tourists, alike. It was a massive expanse of grounds that truly was an immaculate garden. Benches and people lined the stroll ways. Picnics were also happening. It was lovely. Then there was the jolie fountain area pictured here where Arthur said it was rated one of the 10 best places to kiss in Paris. Well, I don’t know if it was connerie (French for BS) or not, but it was a great place for us to do so, I’d say.
He led us through side streets and past what he said was the oldest café in Paris. That’s nice, but then he took us to a side garden where the first-ever test of the Guillotine was performed. Macabre maybe, but cool, I think. From there he led us to the oldest church (at least one of the two vying for the title) in Paris. Inside, The BCPF lit a candle, which has become a tradition for her in the historic churches we visit. I usually stand to the side and hold things for her so she can have her time. Being non-religious, I am still respectful of others’ views and customs. One of the last places we crossed in front of during this tour was a hotel. It was, in a way, the hotel: supposedly, the former apartment building that Jim Morrison died in. I was never a big fan of The Doors, but still, it’s very interesting.
We then made our way to a small (and by small I mean minute) eatery called Ma Salle a Manger (My Dining Room). I think my dining room is bigger than this. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lovely little place but I’m a big boy, even going to the bathroom was hard – lots of ducking and sucking in to maneuver. We, along with Arthur, had wine and beer with our new Australian friends, of which we remember no names. Included in our tour price was charcuterie and fromage. Arthur knew the girl that was minding the shop and got us a few little extra cheeses in there. It was very good.
One thing I remember talking about was the money. We all paid for our alcohol with cash. The Australians told us that they hated American money. Not for any political reasons, mind you, but because of its appearance. They said that it was all the same color and all the same size. Euros and Australian monies are all different colors and sizes for different denominations. We hadn’t really thought about it, it’s what we’ve always known. There are a few variances in the money now, of course, but for the most part, it’s all that forest green and gray.
Arthur, then took us to a little courtyard and proceeded to mix up Ricard and water, to cut it. A licorice-like flavored thing, it was quite strong and quite fun to drink. In this courtyard he introduced us to Pétanque, a bocce ball-esque game where you toss semi-hollow metal balls as closely as possible to a smaller, wooden ball. We all played, we all had fun. Arthur then gave us the opportunity to continue the tour or to disband. The Aussies had other plans to go back to the hotel and get ready for and they all opted out.
We asked if we could continue with him and he basically gave us a private tour for the next 45 minutes or so. He took us past sanitariums and landmarks, eventually getting us back to Notre Dame, yet again. He took us to Point Zero and told us the tradition of standing and turning on it. Doing so will ensure the circling individuals will return to Paris. Again, could be more connerie, but we didn’t take a chance, we circled it.
Before Arthur left us, we inquired about recommendations for dinner. He gave us “instructions” on how to get to where he thought would be good for us and we said our goodbyes. Arthur was fun and we glad that we got to take his tour. We made our way toward the Métro and prepared to head where Arthur told us.
(Arthur) had given us the info for a restaurant that he recommended as a good “closer” for Paris. He recommended Le Relais Gascon. Told us how to find it and sent us on our way.
We took the Metro to the Pigalle station and exited to the street. Because it was hard to understand every word that Arthur said , we basically were going to be winging it once we got off the train. I did hear him say something about a hill. We looked around and noticed a hill. So we walked up it – by then we had gotten really good at hills. At the top of the hill and at a crossroad, there stood Le Relais Gascon. We had found it. We sat outside, as we did just about everywhere in Paris. It had gotten a wee bit chilly. I once more indicated Je ne parle pas français and they said, no problem and brought us English menus.
One thing that we got on our Honeyfund fund raiser was “Wine in France and Beer in Belgium.” So to satisfy that and to have a picture to thank JayCo & JenCo with, we had a nice rosé and we enjoyed it. We then ordered appetizers. The BCPF had a whole avocado covered with grey shrimp (basically bay shrimp) and a house-made Russian dressing. She said it was great. I had pâté and it was quite flavorful.
Then on to the entrées. The BCPF had chicken with mushroom gravy and potato chips (not like the crisps we eat out of a bag, but grated potatoes). She didn’t really care for that, she said. I had steak tartare. 4 nights in Paris, 3 nights of steak tartare. I was addicted to that stuff. Three different restaurants with steak tartare and three different ways of preparing it. All three tasted different. This one was more Worcestershire based. That’s not a bad thing, I like Worcestershire sauce. I’m not really sure if that’s what it was but it did taste like it. It was delish! However, I’d still say out of the three this was my least favorite; but still delish. On to some dessert!
The BCPF had chocolate mousse and, as she sits here while I write this, said it was go-oo-oo-oo-ood! I had a banana split and it was yummy but nothing spectacular. As usual, I finished my meal off with a snifter of Grand Marnier. Overall, we enjoyed the restaurant but it wasn’t our favorite of Paris. We made our way back to the Metro station and back to our hôtel (the proper French way to spell it). A great end to a great day.
The next morning we make our way down to the lobby where we awaited a driver to take us to the train station so we could move on to our next destination. We got to the train station and had some croissants and coffee. Something about French coffee, it doesn’t wig out my Tourette Syndrome like caffeine-laden American coffee. Which is good, because I didn’t want to be jittery at that time. The reason for that is there was a presence of armed French officers, either military or police carrying the machine guns, just like under the Eiffel Tower. I’m supposing the ISIS threat at the time in Europe led them to that, but I’m not really sure. We also saw the apprehension of a thief. Thievery is apparently an epidemic in the train stations. I know we told the same beggar woman “allez!!” several times and the same to another bum. Homeless people I feel for, bums, I don’t.
Finally, our train arrived and again, we had first class tix. We put our bags in the racks and rode on to Brussels so that we could take the connector to Bruges. Whilst riding we had come pastries, tea (me) and coffee (The BCPF). It was about an hour and a half and quite peaceful. I spent time trying to update my blog, but the WiFi on the train was spotty. Present, but spotty.
We arrived in Brussels and had to figure out where we were supposed to pick up the train to Bruges. The train station in Brussels is but one reason why I hate that city; it is so darned confusing. I had to ask one of the rude workers in transportation which train I was supposed to get on because the only thing that they have that indicates trains is the Departures and even though we were departing we couldn’t find the right train to be on. Anywhat! The worker told me to just get on ____ train (I can’t remember which one) it leaves at ____ time. I thanked her and she just nodded. Anyway we wait and wait and wait for the train. It arrives and we get on in a bum-rush of people. Stuffing our luggage under and in-between seats, we sat down breathing heavy and worn out but ready to move on.
We arrived in Bruges and worked our way out to the taxi stand and waited in line to get a ride to our hotel. The driver loaded our bags and drove us to a lovely old hotel. On the way there, all on cobblestone streets, he pointed out several churches, a brewery, pointed us in the direction of the square, etc. A very good driver, he was.
Checking into Oud Huis de Peellaert, we marveled at how beautiful the hotel was. There was much to marvel at in this old place, mostly good, and some truly odd. The view from our room was something just out of a storybook, or what you’d think a small Belgian town would look, historic and timeless. The floor of the bathroom was heated. As is the case with most European hotels, you had to use your room key in a slot to enable the lights and other electronics. The odd thing about this one was that it was a true key on a weighted dongle and not a credit card-like passkey. Also, we were to leave the key at the front desk when we left, which, if we forgot something, then the desk attendants, who never complained, certainly didn’t look pleased. It’s okay, they dealt with it, fantastically.
Another odd thing in this hotel, not in our path, but the opposite end of the hall, there were structural braces in the hall. Not just there, but THERE! See the picture, won’t you?
Well, we settled our stuff in, took in the view and decided to go out and see what this small town held for us. We dropped off the key and walked out the front door. We glanced toward the skyline and looked for a clue as to where to go. We saw what were looking for and headed to the left.
We passed by a few small restaurants and came to a small square. In this square there were a few police officers. They were setting up seats in front of a trailer/stage where an orchestra would play later that day. Let it be known that that was the only time we saw any police during our entire Bruges stay. We moved on down a street. Street is a misnomer as there was no cars in this street, although some horse-drawn carriages were.
We passed by chocolatiers, lacemakers, lace sellers, more restaurants and a beer museum. Mmmm hmmm, a beer museum. But, that comes later. We heard and saw what it was we were looking for. Bruges is visually best known for one thing. It’s primary landmark, and if you’ve seen the film In Bruges, then you know it already, is the Belfort, or Belfry of Bruges. It’s a 13th Century bell tower and has 366 steps to the top, in which I am way too lazy to climb. It’s the center attraction in the Markt, a market square that is full of restaurants, shops, a post office and some government buildings.
As we were now getting a little hungry we decided to sit down for a small snack and, of course, Belgian beer. So, we ended up at a restaurant to the right of the Belfort called De Vier Winden (German for The Four Winds) where we had frittes with both mayonnaise and ketchup and Leffe Braun. We also had a great server named Vincent. He liked us, as well, because we ate there more than once and he kept calling us his “very best friends.” The frittes, french fries – after all true french fries were created in Belgium, not France – were delicious and hit the spot and the beer, well Leffe is awesome and hard to go wrong. We then decided that we were ready for a nap. C’mon, we’ve at this point been going, non-stop, for 11 days, straight. It was quite needed.
We returned to the square later that evening and after walking about a mile (plus) out of the way to find an ATM, returned to the square, yet again, to pay for a horse-drawn carriage ride through the historic city. This was no ordinary carriage ride. The driver and her friend drove the horse quite quickly. At one point the horse was actually trotting and not just strolling through the city. It was probably the fastest carriage ride we’d ever taken. The driver stopped halfway through the tour to feed the horse and let it get water. We took that opportunity to get some pictures and enjoy the rest. It was a fun, but strange ride. We ended back at the square about 45 minutes (the ride was fast, not the tour) and we went back to De Vier Winden since we were already familiar with it. Vincent was waiting for us there and greeted us as his “very best friends,” yet again.
The BCPF had some wine whilst I had the biggest glass of Hoegaarden Raspberry known to man. It was hugantic! She had shrimp croquettes and I had cheese croquettes for appetizers. They were both spectaculicious! For dinner, she had a chicken florentine stew and I had rabbit. Dessert was, of course, a Belgian waffle for The BCPF and crème brulèe for me. All was very delicious. She was especially taken by the croquettes and got them, when she could, from other restaurants. We then returned to the hotel and stopped in at the bar for a night cap. Any guesses as to what I had? Have you been reading, Dear Reader? I’ll give you three guesses and first two won’t count. Okay, okay, I’ll tell you, it was, of course, Grand Marnier and The BCPF had Sprite. She was living dangerously.
Breakfast the next morning was a cold/dry bar with cereals, lox, toast, etc. Basically, it was the same shite we’d had everywhere else. Nothing, really, to remark about. Then, we were out and about. We had a 2pm appointment for one of the city tours with earphone guide, but we were up and out early so we had time to kill. We did what we do and took a different turn and walked the streets to see what else we could wander upon. We crossed some bridges that are older than most everything we have here in “The States,” walked the streets, doing some people watching and ended up at a little market square. At this square there was a few different things: fish (because why not?) and other seafood, scarves, t-shirts, etc. The BCPF loves some scarves, as I think I’ve mentioned, and these were actually made by the people that were there selling them. They had a large loom there that they used to make said scarves. She wasn’t going to buy one but I kind of insisted. She loved it.
We made our way to the Markt again and whilst waiting on the tour bus, we had a few beverages. The BCPF had a Belgian cafe mocha with hot chocolate and coffee and I had a few beers. These beers were Straffe Hendrik by De Halve Maan Brewery in Bruges, a fantastic 11% ABV monster and the Tripel Karmeliet from Bosteels Brewery, a great 8.4% ABV Tripel. One thing that I noticed about Belgium and their restaurants, when they serve beer, they serve it with glasses that have logos that match each and every beer.
We then walked across the square and got on the tour bus. It was really a run-of-the-mill tour, nothing major. We saw a couple of things like the Bonne-Chière Windmill, two more bell towers, including those older than the Belfort. There was also a VW Microbus carrying a wedding party. Interesting. Then back to the square where we exited the bus.
We walked up the street to The Beer Museum. See, I told you I’d get there. Admission included walking up a ridiculous amount stairs to grab an iPad of some sort that would play the part of tour guide for us. It showed the history of beer, both in the world and in Bruges. It showed the positive and negative aspects of beer in history. The highlight of the museum tour, though, was the three tokens each we received to exchange for beer samples. And, yes, The BCPF drank beer! She says that it was Belgium that fully turned her on to it. We tried Kriek (cherry) lambics, hefty high-gravity beers and other smooth and strong Belgian beers. Quite delish, all.
Feeling quite sluggish and more than slightly inebriated, we stumbled about looking for things to buy for souvenirs and found a chocolate factory that tickled our fancies. One thing about Bruges, it’s known for a few things. Specifically, it’s known for its Belgian lace (especially bobbins-made), Belgian chocolate, Belgian beer and Belfort. Anywhat! We proceeded to purchase a 36-pc box of chocolates (variety assortment) and a dozen “animal fat jellies.” Basically, jelly- (like jelly beans, not as in PB&J) filled candies that are shaped like noses and are called “neuzekes” (noses), oddly enough. I mention the animal fat because the girl who sold them to us was quite adamant about informing us due to the fact that she sold some to a Muslim couple and they didn’t know. We got them in a tin and have finished those off, definitely. Remarkably, those things (and the chocolates) held up quite nicely.
That’s what’s we were doing on September 10, 11, 12 six years ago. Sorry it was so long, but I didn’t want to get any further behind. I will finish the whole story on Monday, which was the end of our honeymoon trip although the honeymoon is still happening.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“It’s like a f***ing fairytale or something.“ – Ken (Brendan Gleeson), In Bruges (2008)