A small town in Belgium where tourists often outnumber locals, Bruges doesn’t appear to have a lot going on at first glance. For this reason, I only planned on stopping through for a day – two days tops. I ended up staying for three nights. For primarily one reason: the beer.
That sounds bad. Unlike some who only visit Europe to party and consume a lot of alcohol (I’m looking at you Australia), I always make a point to explore a city’s various cultural offerings. Fortunately for me and the Aussies, Bruges best cultural offering is its suds. Not only is the white beer delicious, it’s also certifiably holy because trappist monks brew it. Legends surround many of the beers like Orval. To add to the mystique, many of the trappist beers can only be found in Bruges.
For this reason, anticipation along with the smell of cheese was heavy in the air when I walked into one of Bruges’ most famous bars, Bacchus Cornelius, with a few Aussies and a Canadian.
I can’t remember the name of the first beer we drank. But I won’t forget my first taste. I tipped the glass back and a small stream of liquid gently cascaded onto my tongue. It was then that a chorus of angels playing harps appeared from above, descending down from the most blessed of places just to let me know everything is OK and that life would work out one way or another.
As my new Canadian friend later put it, quoting the movie Beerfest, “I wish the beer were winter, so we could freeze it into ice blocks and skate on it and melt it in the spring time and drink it.”
After drinking two glasses, I considered selling all my possessions and joining the monks’ ranks. Seeing as how I’ve lost three articles of clothing and a few other material things along my journey, it’s possible my subconscious is steering me in that direction.
I just happened to be in Bruges for the once a year Procession of the Holy Blood, a religious festival devoted to a piece of cloth that’s said to have been stained with the blood of Christ. The first part of the festival involved an incredibly intricate parade featuring participants acting out scenes from the Old and New testament. I couldn’t imagine the sheer amount of planning that went into it. Among other things, sheep, camels and people dressed up in colorful costumes marched around the narrow cobblestone streets for more than three hours. Between the beer and festival, it wasn’t hard to find holiness in Bruges.