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11.05.2009

In Bruges 

My sickness lasted all week, but by Friday I felt it subsiding.  When I finally finished my last class in Helmstedt I was really looking forward to getting back home and lying around doing nothing all weekend and hopefully restoring myself to full health.  Amanda was going to take me to Ikea that afternoon, but other than that I had no plans. 

But just as I was leaving class and heading towards the train station, Amanda called me and said that she didn’t want to go to Ikea—that she would rather go to Bruges.  She and Alan had apparently decided spontaneously to take that trip they’d been talking about for months and drive to the city of Bruges in Belgium, a place they both wanted to go after seeing the 2008 film, In Bruges.  The question posed to me was whether I wanted to come along. 

This was a much more difficult dilemma than it would have been at any other time.  I was still feeling a little sick and I was absolutely dead tired.  I felt no energy or desire to head off on some crazy adventure to Belgium that would most certainly involve lots of walking around and drinking.  But on the other hand, I’ve been living in Europe for over 8 months and I still haven’t really done any actual travelling to speak of, which was the whole fucking point of this overseas English-teaching career in the first place.  I just haven’t had the money to do so up until this point, but now that I’ve got the new place and I’m sitting on a comfortable sum of money in my bank account, I knew this trip would definitely be something I could afford.  It would simply be unforgivable of me to sit it out. 

So I reluctantly agreed, and about a half hour after getting back to my apartment (3:30) Alan came and knocked on my door, and we got in Amanda’s car and began the long European road-trip to Bruges.  The drive itself lasted about 6 hours, but we were able to pass the time quite nicely with little things like a deck of Trivial Pursuit cards (which were in German so Amanda had to do some translating) and some other games like “6 degrees of separation” where you have to connect two actors through the movies they’ve been in with other actors.  We stopped twice along the way—once for gas and snacks, and another time for a quick dinner at Burger King just after crossing the border into Holland.  We were in Holland for less than half an hour until we got to Belgium, and we finally got to the area near the northwest sea where Bruges is located as the sun was going down, around 9:30. 

I haven’t seen the film so I didn’t have any idea what to expect as far as the aesthetics of the city go, and most of the Belgian countryside was boring as hell so I didn’t expect much.  The area immediately surrounding the city was pretty unremarkable as well, but the city itself is completely enclosed in a circular moat, which once we crossed and drove under the gate to get inside, it was like a completely different world.  I learned more and more about the history of Bruges during the course of the trip, but apparently it’s a medieval city built around the 11th century, and it’s definitely still got that medieval feel to it.  Nearly all of the streets are narrow cobblestone, and the buildings are all extremely old and attached to one another.  It’s like a wall of little houses stretching out hundreds of metres, with no spaces or alleyways between the buildings.  There’s a little network of canals that also runs along the city and many little stone bridges crossing over them.  If it weren’t for the cars parked along the side of some of the wider roads, it really would have felt as though we’d just travelled back in time several centuries.  During the day, there were almost as many people travelling by horse-and-carriage as there were by car, though bicycles were by far the most prevalent form of transportation. 

About an hour before we’d arrived, Amanda was suddenly struck with the fear that she’d made a mistake in reserving a room at the hostel.  Alan called the place and found that indeed we didn’t have a reservation for Friday and Saturday but actually for Sunday and Monday, and that they were completely booked for the weekend so we couldn’t change our reservation but only cancel it.  But we stopped there anyway just to see if maybe we could sweet-talk our way in, or at least get some help finding another place.  The place was called the “Bauhaus” and it was a St. Christopher’s hostel—the same St. Christopher’s that owns the infamous London hostel where I got pissed on.  And as soon as I walked inside to the extremely crowded, extremely smoke-filled, extremely loud-music playing, drunken-assholes-everywhere atmosphere, I had to turn around and walk right out again.  It was in fact just like the atmosphere from that London hostel.  I was actually quite glad that we had made a mistake and that we wouldn’t be staying there. 

Alan had a hard time finding someone at the bar slash reception desk who could help us out, let alone hearing them talk over all the music and commotion when they did, but he eventually came outside again and said there was a place just a little up the road called “Charlie Rockets” that might have rooms available.  So we drove a bit further into the city, crossing one of the canals, and came to the other place.  It was also one of those hostels with a loud bar downstairs, but this was much less crowded and the smoke in the air (unlike Germany, Belgium has yet to impose any kind of no-smoking-in-bars policy) was much less oppressive.  At first the reception guy said they didn’t have any rooms, but Alan asked him to check and apparently they had a cancellation so the three of us could stay in a room with four beds, which basically meant we’d have a room to ourselves, unlike at the other hostel where we would have had to share.  So we really lucked out there. 

We were all more than ready to have a beer at that point, but we still had to take care of parking.  The reception guy spoke terrible English, but as French is one of the two official languages in Belgium (the other is Flemish) and Alan speaks French (because he’s Canadian), he was able to ask for directions to where we could park the car for two days without it being towed.  Apparently the directions were pretty bad, however, and we ended up driving around lost for awhile looking for this place called “The Swan” where we were supposed to park.  We even asked a few people walking along where “The Swan” was, and Alan even got out and went into the Irish Pub to ask around, but nobody knew.  We ended up driving outside the city to get back inside the way we came in, then took a turn we hadn’t taken the first time and were lucky enough to find it. 

So we parked, unloaded our shit, and headed up to our room which was through this labyrinth of stairs and hallways (up half a set of stairs, through a couple of doors, down a set of stairs, up a spiral staircase, through a hall, up another set of spiral stairs) until we reached the room, which consisted of two sets of mattresses and a bunk-bed, as well as a surprisingly nice bathroom with a shower-tub but no shower curtain. 

It was now 11:00, and we were finally ready to start drinking.  I was feeling like complete shit at that point, my sickness having not completely subsided, but I knew after a couple of beers the pain would go away.  We had our first drink at the bar in the hostel, and then headed out to check out a few more places.  We walked all the way back to the Bauhaus and passed a bunch of bars along the way.  They wanted to get a drink there but I was quite vocal about my objection to going inside that place, but that had definitely been the most “hopping” joint we’d seen and they just wanted a quick one.  But once we got there and they went in (I didn’t even go inside) they came out a few seconds later, logic having prevailed.  Not only was the smoke almost as thick as it might have been in a fucking fire, but the music was so loud you couldn’t hear someone shouting into your ear right next to you. 

So we walked back down the road and stopped at the next place, a bar called The Crash which was playing Neil Young’s “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” when we went inside so that was pretty inviting.  We had resolved not to drink two of the same kinds of beer, so after Alan went and bought a round of a beer called Jupiler, which was the most heavily-advertised beer in town, with signs for it outside of nearly every bar, I went and bought a round of the next kind of beer down the list, and we headed off to the next place, now quite significantly buzzed. 

The next place we tried was called Primus, and only about a few seconds after we got in we decided to get the hell out, as this place was filled with “trailer-trash”, just a bunch of leather-clad, scummy looking people who were probably locals who drank there every night and gave the impression that they didn’t like outsiders coming in.  The next place we tried was the complete opposite—a little too high-class, but full of locals who also didn’t seem to like outsiders coming in.  A lot of the places were empty except for a few people, and it seemed like the only way they managed to stay in business was with a few people who came every night.  If they lost just one customer, we could imagine, they would go out of business. 

One of the quieter, more upper-class bars however, was a bit more inviting, so we stopped there for awhile.  It was quite the juxtaposition from the Primus, with low-key Leonard Cohen music playing instead of hardcore rock music, but it was a pleasant atmosphere and the bartender seemed nice.  We ordered three beers, he asked us whether we wanted light or dark, and we said dark.  We didn’t expect him to come to our table a minute later with three different types of beer, but he’d picked his favourite three beers and poured us each a glass.  I got the one he said was his favourite, a brew called Liefman’s Golden, which had some kind of Oak flavouring and turned out to be one of the most delicious beers I’ve ever had, which is saying a lot.  Apparently Belgian beer is just as good on average as German beer.  But one thing about Belgian beers is that they tend to be a lot stronger.  The average percentage seemed to be about 5.5%.  But at this place, my beer was 8%, Amanda’s was 7%, and Alan’s was a whopping 11%.  We were well on our way to drunk after leaving that place.  But before we did we struck up a conversation with a woman from another table who was a local from Bruges, who spoke good English and told us a little about the city and recommended a few places to go the next day, which we tried to see but never actually got to.  We learned some interesting things however, like how when the city was built it was actually on the sea and it had been a big trade-town, but since the ocean had resided it wasn’t so any longer.  Tourism, also, has just recently become a big industry, whereas only a short time ago very few people actually visited. 

We stumbled around the city for a little while after that looking for somewhere to satisfy our munchies.  One place Alan went into and very politely asked the waitress if we could order food there, and she very rudely told us that there were cafes around the corner.  Apparently it had been another one of those posh places where they didn’t like drunk tourists coming in and fucking up the atmosphere. 

So we went into the Irish pub, where we knew we’d be welcome, and got another round of big, strong-ass beers to finish the night.  Apparently we had two beers at that place, but I only remember the first one.  That was definitely where I crossed the line between buzzed and drunk, as evidenced by the fact that the conversation somehow turned to my lack of a sex-life, which is not a topic I tend to delve into unless I’ve heavily under the influence.  But Alan and Amanda, especially Amanda, seemed particularly serious about getting me over this whole hang-up I have about sex, even going so far as to say that tomorrow we were going to find a brothel and get me laid.  I’ve always had the most firm conviction that if I ever lose my virginity it would not be with a prostitute, but Amanda put forward an extremely convincing argument that going with the sex-worker was actually the best way to do it, as they knew how to deal with everything and would be open to all kinds of weirdness, and they also would have a particular sensitivity when dealing with virgins.  I was drunk enough at that point for all of this to sound quite reasonable, and to actually think that maybe at the age of 25 in the city of Bruges would be the perfect time and place to finally have sex for the first time and be done with it. 

We stumbled back to the hostel, stopping at a little late-night hamburger stand in the central city square along the way, then back to the hostel where we navigated through the maze to get to our room.  I threw on my night-clothes, lied down and passed out, neglecting to drink lots of water before going to sleep, which turned out to be a huge mistake. 

The next morning we all woke up with a hangover, and with me still being sick on top of it I was really in a bad state.  Amanda mentioned something about how I was supposed to get laid tonight and I said “I take it all back” as with a sober mind it couldn’t be clearer to me that my resolve not to lose my virginity to a prostitute was actually a pretty good fucking resolve to stick to for someone like me. 

We had missed the 8:30-10:30 breakfast that we’d paid for when checking into the hostel so we would have to go out to find food, and after we all showered (the floor getting completely soaked due to the lack of a shower curtain) we headed out into the city and began the search for a place that sold eggs, which Amanda wanted, and waffles, which I wanted (because this was Belgium and I figured waffles were a necessity).  Obviously, we’d all been picturing a diner, but there’s no such thing as a diner in Bruges which once we realised we settled on a little hole-in-the-wall stand where you could buy sandwiches or snacks, one of the snacks being a waffle covered in chocolate syrup, which is what I got and it wasn’t the least bit disappointing.  Apparently Belgians really do know how to make a waffle. 

I hadn’t been able to shit that morning in the hostel, but after breakfast I felt like it was ready to come out so I kept my eyes open for a toilet, which is damn tricky in Europe because most places don’t let customers use theirs, and you have to pay to use public toilets.  I finally found one though, right across from a really old church, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was almost worth the 50 cents.  It was extremely clean, it didn’t stink at all, and the stalls had doors stretching all the way to the ground so it was like you had your own private room to do your business.  It was one of the most pleasant public-toilet-shitting experiences I’ve ever had.  Unfortunately, I discovered it was mostly gas, and just a few minutes after unloading the gas I was filled with it again. 

But we pressed on in search of a tourism-information place in the hopes of getting a walking tour of the town.  This took a lot of stumbling along, standing around and trying to get our bearings and whatnot, as we were all still suffering from “the stupids” from the night before.  I was in a particularly bad state having almost completely lost my voice, so I tried to speak as little as possible.  My voice was strained throughout the whole weekend (and it still is even today).  One of the good things about having such a bad hangover, however, was how unaffected I was by all the beautiful women and girls around.  It also seemed to me that the women and girls in this town were kind of ugly on average, so that made things easier as well. 

Eventually we found an Information place and I just sat on a bench while they looked for information.  As I sat and stared into space some little girl in a tennis outfit with the short skirt and everything sat down right in my field on view, apparently waiting for someone to come pick her up.  That was the only time on the trip where I really struggled with any evil thoughts, as her legs were just so fucking lovely and that short skirt didn’t cover much of them.  Finally, Alan and Amanda got back with a little do-it-yourself walking-tour guidebook, as apparently there weren’t any live guides, and we resolved to walk along the recommended route and read the descriptions ourselves of every point of interest. 

As it turned out, we weren’t too good at giving ourselves the book tour.  We got to one of the churches and the description we read didn’t seem to describe it at all, and we were never sure we were at the right place.  Once we got to the second place, the Church of Our Lady, and couldn’t spot anything the book told us we should spot, we just gave up on the whole thing and went inside the church to check it out ourselves.  It was actually a really impressive cathedral, with beautiful marble statues and stained-glass windows, and that whole medieval Christian aura still faintly perceptible throughout the giant hall under the big Gothic arches.  I fucking love medieval cathedrals.  Can’t get enough of them.  But I haven’t been in one in a long time so it was particularly nice. 

Once we’d taken in that place for a long enough time we stumbled around some more, discussed a few other things we might want to do that we didn’t end up doing, like taking one of the many boat-tours of the canals we were seeing, or climbing up to the top of the tallest steeple in town for a nice overhead view of the city.  Instead we found ourselves stopping for tea and ordering a waffle with strawberries and cream that turned out to be so delicious that we had to order another one.  Apparently Belgians really do know how to make a waffle. 

But after that we split up for awhile, as Alan wanted to use the internet and Amanda wanted to just walk around.  I had to take a fucking nap, so I went with Alan back to the hostel, where I’d seen a sign that said they had internet access.  As Alan dealt with the computer issue I lied down in bed and recharged some much-needed energy.  About an hour and a half later I got up and went downstairs looking for him, and I asked where the internet access was but was told that it wasn’t working and there was an internet café just across the bridge.  So I walked to the café but didn’t spot Alan there, then walked a bit towards the centre of the city in the hopes of running into them but I couldn’t find them.  None of our cell-phones worked, so I figured the only chance I had of rejoining them was to go back to the room and wait for them to come get me. 

Luckily I was only waiting about 15 minutes before both of them came through the door, apparently having met at the internet café where they’d looked for things to do.  The plan was to go on a tour of a local brewery and then get some dinner.  So we took a nice walk through some of the back-roads of the city to get to the brewery, stood in line for a ticket, drank a beer while waiting, and then took the 45-minute tour of the little brewery which ended up being one of the lamest tours any of us has every taken.  They squeezed about 50 people into each tiny little room, and the one tour-guide said everything first in Flemish and then in bad English, clearly spending much less time on the English explanations which were all quite boring anyway.  Like, “This machine is where the malt goes.  Then it goes to this machine.  This machine is where it used to go.  Now we are going to the next room.”  Occasionally she would forget the English word for something.  I tried to remember just one little fact to be able to say I had learned something, but no interesting enough facts were presented.  I thought I might have something when she went into the four main elements of beer but she trailed off before finishing.  Apparently the four main elements of beer are malt, water, and hops. 

The only saving grace was the climb to the roof of the brewery from which we got a really nice view of Bruges, thus making up for having not climbed the church steeple.  But even that was an ironic part of the tour because it had nothing to do with the brewery itself.  It seemed like they were squeezing whatever shit they possibly could into the tour to fill it up.  There was even a room with nothing but a bunch of empty beer bottles and beer glasses behind a glass case—just regular old beer bottles and glasses with no particular significance to the brewery or even Bruges itself.  Apparently it’s a Belgian tradition for every beer to have its own glass, which was the only point of the whole room. 

When the tour was finally over we got our complimentary beer and sat at the brewery just making fun of the tour for about twenty minutes, which almost made the whole thing worth it.  We’d been very polite during the tour because our guide seemed like a nice enough lady and we didn’t want to be rude, but it felt very good afterwards to finally vent about what a pathetic rip-off that had been.  It was as though we’d paid €5.50 to basically just wait 45-minutes to have a beer.  When I asked what brand of beer they brewed here anyway, it turned out none of us even knew, and we died laughing. 

From there we began our search for a reasonably-priced restaurant, which took at least an hour because there were just no reasonably-priced restaurants to be found anywhere near the middle of the city.  The prices only started going down when we got back to the street our hostel was on, and of all the places we actually ended up at the Bauhaus, where at least it was early enough that it wasn’t crowded, the music wasn’t blasting, and the air wasn’t thick with smoke.  We actually had a pretty nice meal there, and drank a couple more beers over the course of it but because we also filled our stomachs we didn’t feel much of an effect in spite of the more-than-average strength of them. 

After dinner I wanted to go drink at another place but they wanted to just hop over to the bar section and have another one right there, which it was still early enough to do without getting caught up in the late-night madness.  Still, I found that to be a rather un-enjoyable portion of the trip, not least of all because of the table of hot girls sitting right next to us to remind me of how miserable I am.  It’s basically just the knowledge that I don’t even know how to begin to approach them, and the near-certainty that if I did try to approach them I’d be shot down anyway.  Alan and Amanda also happened to be having a conversation about longevity and getting old, and I just couldn’t avoid the overwhelming desire to just be dead already and not have to face the awful prospect of growing old and alone, which is exactly what’s going to happen to me unless I somehow undergo a complete alteration of my personality. 

It was twilight by the time we left there, and the atmosphere in the city felt really nice.  We all wanted to walk around for awhile, maybe stop at one more bar, and then go to sleep.  Amanda was extremely tired and Alan had to keep pressing her not to just go back and go to sleep right then and there.  But when we got back to our hostel Amanda asked for the key so she could run up and take a piss.  Alan waited downstairs for her while I waited outside, not wanting to miss the twilight atmosphere and suspecting that once Amanda got back up to the room she wouldn’t be coming down again anyway.  Indeed, after about ten minutes I saw Alan head up the stairs, and I waited even longer outside as the twilight gave way to complete night, just staring at the architecture around me, the cobblestone streets, the people walking by, listening to all the different languages I could hear and reflecting on the fact that this is one of the most unique places in the world, that this is one of the most unique moments of my life, and basically just appreciating the Now to the fullest extent possible.  I knew that by the end of the day tomorrow the trip would be over and it would all just be a memory, but one of the many memories that would stick with me for the rest of my life.  The idea that I was living that moment now and that I never would again felt very profound. 

Finally, Alan came back out and confirmed my suspicion that Amanda was done for the night, and I suggested we head out to one more bar and then call it a night.  We walked back to the central city square by the big church, and walked by all of the many cafés around but none of which seemed to be a good place to just stop and have a drink.  I wanted to walk along a canal at night so we did that, and came by chance to what was probably the most beautiful spot in the city, with the water running along some beautiful buildings, hanging under a lovely green tree, and all of it reflecting from the almost perfectly still black water of the canal.  We stood there and soaked that in for a nice long time, occasionally pointing out to each other some other aspect of the beautiful sight we would notice.  At one point I saw a couple sitting next to us and trying to take a picture of themselves, and I offered to snap the shot for them, which they appreciated.  As much as happy couples off on a European vacation piss me off (and there were a hell of a lot of them in Bruges) it was almost like a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” kind of thing, as I would now forever be an element of their little romantic trip, having taking that nice romantic picture of them in front of that lovely scene. 

After realising that the only actual bar bars in the city were the ones we’d been to last night, I suggested we head back to that place that had the really good beer, and Alan agreed that would be a good idea.  I ordered another of the delicious Oak-flavoured Liefman’s beer again, and Alan ordered something else, a beer with only 4.5% alcohol content, very weak for Belgium.  He finished that one pretty quickly and then got one that was 8%, while I just took my sweet time with the Liefman’s.  We had some pretty good conversation over the course of the next hour, with topics ranging all the way from why it’s so fucking hard to get women to much more philosophical things like what do the differences between perceptions of God, good and evil, and the after-life in different religions say about different cultures and about humanity in general.  I was almost glad that Amanda had gone to bed, as a one-on-one setting tends to allow for much greater depth of conversation, and Alan is much more interested in these academic sorts of topics anyway.  We’re also both on a similar page when it comes to women, as while he’s definitely had more experience than me he also suffers from being shy and far-too-nice, and we both lack whatever that “aura” is that draws women to the kind of men they tend to go for. 

Anyway, we went back to the hostel and had a good night’s sleep after that, waking up the next morning in a much better state than that previous day.  Although we’d probably drank the same amount of beer, we’d taken it much more slowly and with quite a hearty meal in between.  I also remembered to drink lots of water before going to sleep. 

The plan for our last day in the city was to split up for a few hours, as a friend of Alan’s was coming to the city to spend some time with him.  An Indian girl named Lisa whom he’d met during his year in China has been living in Brussels which is only an hour away by train, and he had gotten in touch with her when he knew he would be coming to Bruges to see if she’d come hang out.  She would be meeting him at 11, and the three of us would get together around 2 p.m. for one last drink and then hopefully be on our way out by 3. 

We took advantage of the breakfast we’d paid for this morning, which turned out to be quite a pathetic little assortment of one kind of toast, some cereal, and some hard-boiled eggs.  So I had an egg and some toast, then went back up to the room until the others came back, packed up and left.  We put our stuff in the car and then parted ways.  It being Mother’s Day, Amanda wanted to stop in an internet café to call her mom in Australia or at least send an e-mail, and I figured since I wasn’t getting service in Bruges and I was expecting a call from my mother it would be good for me to send her an e-mail letting her know she wouldn’t be able to reach me until later on. 

But it being Sunday, the internet café was closed until 1 p.m. so Amanda and I just moved on to the next thing she wanted to do, which was take a tour of an art gallery.  She said I could do whatever I wanted, but I had no interest in just walking around alone and I had nothing in particular I wanted to do, so I went with her to the “art gallery” which actually turned out to be a historical museum, and the exhibition there was all about a 15th century Flemish monarch called Karle de Stoute, or Charles the Bold.  Entry was 9-Euros for adults, but as luck would have it the price was only 1 Euro for anyone age 6-25.  I showed them my California driver’s license and got in for just 1 Euro, though I did have to shell out a couple more Euros for the audio-tour, the price of which I split with Amanda, thinking we could both just listen at the same time.  But those things are designed for only one person to be able to hear at a time by holding the speaker directly against their ear, unless you crank the volume way up which is very obnoxious to do in a museum.  So Amanda went on ahead of me while I walked about through the rooms, not really paying much attention to all these artefacts which to me had no historical context (I’d never heard of Charles the Bold) until later on after I’d learned a bit more about him and got more interested. 

I finally ran into Amanda again in the last room, and she took the audio-tour from me because she wanted to go back and listen to a few descriptions of things.  At that point I went through the entire museum again, and appreciated everything a lot more now that there was an actual context behind it.  Charles the Bold himself wasn’t all that fascinating—just another typical medieval asshole who fancied himself the second coming of Alexander the Great and spent his life in the pursuit of trying to expand his empire—the Bergundian empire—until he pushed too far and started losing every battle instead of winning them and finally getting his ass killed.  But as much of a loser as Charles the Bold was, it was still cool as hell to see all of the genuine artefacts from his kingdom if you thought about it in the broader context of history, that for about a thousand years there lived hundreds of guys just like him, and that throughout this time Europe was pretty much this vast tapestry of kingdoms and walled cities like Bruges, with territories constantly shifting as men of ambition were constantly going off and starting battles, spilling blood and raping women, then commemorating their achievements with songs and works of art, as though this kind of barbaric behaviour was somehow the greatest glory a living being could achieve. 

The most fascinating pieces in the museum to me were two tapestries commemorating events from the life of Julius Caesar, one in which he triumphantly rides his horse into battle while you see his soldiers slaughtering the enemy, but Caesar himself and his soldiers are clad in the armour of the Bergundian, rather than the Roman, army.  The other shows Caesar’s triumphant return to Rome, in which he is also wearing the armour of Charles the Bold and the depiction is actually of a typical Bergundian, rather than Roman, triumph.  In addition to simply being beautiful and full of rich detail (like you can tell every person depicted in the tapestry has a story) they just say so much about the mind-set of these kinds of kings, constantly trying to live up to an imaginary ideal that they never quite reach, and in spite of constantly being surrounded by lackeys lavishing them with praise they must be completely miserable their whole lives. 

I can just imagine how awful it must have been for Charles when off on some military campaign (naturally) he learned that his first child was born, and it was a daughter.  Mary of Bergundy must have been a particularly miserable person as well, first used as a pawn by her father who tried to auction her off to whatever king he could get the most land from, then being orphaned at age 12 as her father got killed in one of his pointless battles.  Mary herself (quite beautiful, actually, if the portrait was accurate) gets killed in her 30s after being flung from a horse, and her young son, Philip the Good, is not accepted as the new monarch until much later in life.  Finally, the last piece in the museum is a rather graphic painting of a judge who was found guilty of accepting bribes getting skinned alive as a message to other judges who might think of putting profit above justice.  And being skinned alive was probably one of the more humane punishments they had going around at the time. 

Anyway, I totally ate that shit up like a total nerd, absolutely lost in my imagination of medieval European history.  It also enriched the atmosphere of the city itself, as I was now looking at it through slightly new eyes.  But the next couple of hours were spent pretty much trying to kill time.  Amanda and I found a hotel willing to let us use their internet in the lobby to e-mail our mothers (apparently Europe has Mother’s Day too), then we went and took a little boat-tour of the canals, which was rather relaxing but a bit over priced at €6.70 for a half-hour.  Finally, we met up with Alan and Lisa, then found a nice little place to sit and have a drink and talk.  I didn’t have a drink though because I knew it would just invite a head-ache later on, and I still wasn’t sure I’m completely over last week’s sickness.  (I’m still not completely over it as of the time of this writing). 

Lisa seemed like a really cool person, having also been all over the world teaching English.  She’s been living with her boyfriend in Brussels for about four years and she’ll be living in Holland for the next four years as her boyfriend earns a Ph.D. in linguistics at one of the schools there.  When we were heading out, and Alan and Amanda went to the bathroom and I found myself sitting alone with her, she asked me about myself and I felt cornered, like how could I possibly compare my stupid life to hers?  She asked me, “What do you do when you’re not teaching?”  What the hell do I do when I’m not teaching.  “Not much,” I said.  “I’m actually a pretty boring person.”  When in doubt, self-deprecate.  “I write a lot.  And I go for walks.”  She said there’s “nothing wrong with that” but didn’t ask any follow-up questions.  The thing is, I actually am a pretty boring person on the surface.  The interesting aspects about me only become visible when you really get down to the depths of my personality, but that takes time.  How the fuck am I supposed to get a girlfriend if I can’t think of anything interesting to me off the top of my head?  Just another reason it seems pointless to even bother trying.  I can only imagine how terrible I’d be on a date. 

It was 3:30 already when we parted ways with Lisa and walked back to the car.  Much to our surprise, there was a city-marathon going on that day, which made driving out of the city an extremely complicated process.  Every way out seemed to be blocked by the path of the runners, and as small as the city was it took us a full half-hour to find a way out, with many a K-turn and illegal drive through a pedestrian zone along the way.  But we eventually escaped from Bruges and got under way with the 6-hour drive back to Hannover, which we made go faster by playing some of the games we all play with our English students. 

I went to sleep about an hour after returning, and spent the morning writing this entry.  I have no regrets about the trip—it’s about fucking time I did some travelling—and I look forward to doing a lot more of this in the future.  Amanda’s going alone to Dublin next weekend, so I won’t be going anywhere then, but the following weekend we’re planning to go to Berlin for some drinking and craziness.  But the Bruges trip was just what I needed.  I came to Germany for the opportunity to do more travelling around Europe, just like I did during my exchange-student year, but I made the mistake of paying too much rent and not being able to afford going anywhere.  Now that the rent situation has been rectified, I can finally start doing what I’d wanted to do all along, and fill that big gaping woman-shaped hole in my soul with a lot of crazy adventures through interesting parts of the world.