Monday, 15 June 2015

In Bruges...

... for all of one hour having lunch in the main square. I've never been before and because I was only there for lunch – and two dark ales that played havoc with my digestive system for the rest of the journey – I couldn't really pass judgement on the place, although judging by the shops and the general vibe, it's the sort of place to visit for a long weekend, although there was something a little 'samey' about it. For a start there were global brands: H&M, Claire's Accessories and Zara spring to mind, and then there was that air of 'tourist destination' about the place. Cue horse drawn carriages and restaurants with outdoor seating. I'm sounding ungrateful, I know, but after while I did find myself saying ' alright, I get it' and then wishing I could turn around and go home – metaphorically speaking, of course, although going home would be nice especially as the weather this week is odds on to be hot and summery and I'm going to be stuck in an exhibition hall all day when my family and back garden await me.

Er, tone it down a bit! Room 207, Friends Hotel, Dusseldorf, Germany
Half of me wanted to remain in Bruges instead of pressing on to Dusseldorf, my ultimate destination, which I reached just before 9pm. It's been a long day: up at 0600hrs, out of the house by 0800hrs, driving with a colleague to Folkestone to catch the EuroTunnel shuttle and then the hour and a half ride to Bruges, which is en route to Dusseldorf.

When I reached my hotel – the Friends Hotel on Worringer Strasse – I was full of so much gas from the dark ale that I could almost have floated to my room, but I had to check in first. It was all very efficient, but then I was in Germany where, fortunately, everything works, trains arrive and depart on time and everybody seems to be driving a decent German automobile.

Because tourists are money! The main square in Bruges, Belgium
Having checked out the website for this hotel prior to leaving the UK, I knew what to expect: it was a quirky boutique hotel so there would out-sized angle poise lamps and whacky colours and I wasn't to be disappointed. I had two of the aforementioned lamps over either side of my bed, the wall behind the bed was painted a shocking orange and the carpet was brightly-coloured stripes. Had I taken mind-altering drugs, I wondered, as I noted with mild amusement the purple curtains? No, I hadn't. I didn't need to as this place was a kind of Korova Milk Bar and acid trip rolled into one.

Eager to sort out my digestive problem I headed straight for the bathroom – a shocking white affair with a black and white framed photograph of Twiggy looking surprised to see – she had an even bigger surprise coming, I thought, as I gulped down a bottle of complimentary Evian mineral water, lit the blue touch paper and waited. It all went smoothly bar a moment of panic when I thought I'd blocked the toilet. Horrific visions of calling up a member of staff to sort it out crossed my mind but, fortunately my fears were all in vain as suddenly the water level receded and all was well with the world.

I'm in Room 207 and it's a pleasant enough space if I ignore the brightly-coloured decor. The main thing is that everything works and the guy on the front desk even had an adaptor for me and it worked! I plugged in my iphone to charge it and then, grabbing glasses, money and a credit card I headed outside to check out the restaurant scene... only to discover that I was in kebab land. Better make that 'kebap' land. And there were only men in the restaurants, groups of them in denims, trainers and open neck shirts exposing hairy chests chatting, I could have been in Istanbul or the Yemen.

A short distance from the main square, but still very much in Bruges.
I walked up all the streets joining Worringer Platz but found nothing but 'kebap' houses. Eventually I went back to the hotel and asked if there were any restaurants in the area, good restaurants, that weren't kebab shops. Yes, was the answer. There was an Italian restaurant about 10 minutes' walk along Karl Strasse called Da Bruno. It was dark outside but I'd decided that I better eat something and made the short trek, past a few down-and-outs until I eventually stumbled across the restaurant. It was good and very authentic but again only men could be found grouped together at one of the tables talking, no women.

I ordered pasta with mushrooms and a glass of red wine – no wine list was produced, just a fairly generous glass of red wine and some bread rolls. But it was good food and much welcomed, although I had considered simply hitting the sack until I realised how little I had eaten today. The bill came to EUR15.00 but I liked the place so I gave the waiter a 10 Euro tip and then made my way back to the hotel from where I now write this blog post.

Oddly, at night, the wild colour scheme of the room seemed muted (unless I switched on a light). What I do like is the guest book for room 207. Shortly after arriving I flicked through it and found the comments of other guests who had spent the night in this very room. Half of them were written in foreign languages I didn't understand, but there was one from Jan and Natalie – 'Lancashire Girls, UK' who now live in County Mayo in Ireland. They even drew a funny face. Their message was clear, that the Friends Hotel was beautiful and had friendly staff and there was a small piece of advice for guests like me: the caff next door offered superb ice cream. They were only here for one night, but say that they hope to be back for longer in the not-to-distant future. I'm looking forward to adding my comment, but I'll wait until I've stayed here a little longer before I put pen to paper. Or perhaps I'll do it now.

Just a word on that caff next door. Earlier I'd considered it for my evening meal but my first impression was that it might be an ice cream parlour. But then I saw a blackboard advertising pasta and soup and ciabatta, but it didn't appeal, not for an evening meal at any rate, but I might take up Jan and Natalie's advice and check out the ice cream – but not until I've exercised, stretched my legs and possibly even hired a bicycle (I need to check the availability of a bike share scheme).

Right now it's time to hit the sack. With such bright colours I'm not planning on setting my alarm clock as I'm sure the purple curtains and striped carpets will wake me up as soon as daylight dawns.

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