Monday, May 17, 2010

We awoke to a cloudless, deep blue sky and brilliant sun radiating the western hills of Port-en-Bessin which we had climbed the night before.  After petit dejeuner in the common area of the hotel, we were off in the direction of Belgium.  But not before visiting the massive German guns at Longues-sur-Mer!  There are four of these monsters (150mm, with a range of 12.5 miles) which were characteristic of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.  Installed in Spring, 1944, they were bombed in the early hours of June 6, two were out of action early that day, but one of them fired until evening.  They were captured D+1.

Continuing on our drive east, our next stop was Arromanches.  This picturesque seaside village was the site of a British engineering marvel.  They pre-fabricated a harbor in England, including these massive concrete caissons which they floated across the channel and then filled with water and sunk to create a break water for an artificial port harbor. (you can see them still at Google Maps, Satellite or Earth view).  We walked up the hill for a great view from the west side of town.

One could spend weeks in Normandy, but after three days we’re now off to Brugge!

On our northeasterly drive, I realized that we’d not had a drop of rain.  The toll roads take all major credit cards which is very convenient, because you go through them every 20 miles or so.  Once we arrived in Brugge, we randomly parked and after a bit of searching for hotel options, we returned to our first choice.  We dragged our stuff up to the top floor, and then promptly headed back down the stairs and out for an evening of massive beer consumption.  (Our car was parked for the evening and Brugge is a great stumbling…er, walking city.)

Using a small tourist map, we made our way into the heart of the city. Twenty minutes later we were standing in the Markt square, surrounded by wonderful old buildings and of course home of the Belfry Tower. Under the tower are several frites stands where you can get freshly-made frites and your choice of sauce.

First order of business was to find a bar with a nice beer selection. We walked around for a bit but all of the bars along the touristy routes in town have only a few of the standard Belgian fair. We wanted more variety. Eventually, I remembered we had brought a copy of Tim Webb’s excellent Good Beer Guide Belgium, where he had specifically circled the t’ Brugs Beertje as a must-visit location. We found the bar in a narrow alley a short walk from the main square, and made it our home for about six hours.

The Beertje was full of people from literally everywhere. We overheard groups of people from Japan, the UK, the US, and some unidentifiable places during our stay. The bartender, Martin, was very helpful and always found a nice beer for us a try, from their ample selection of common and exotic Belgian beers. Some of the beers we tried that evening include a dry-hopped Saison Dupont that was on tap, Black Damnation from De Struise Brouwers (who we would visit later), Taras Boulba Blonde, Cuvee de Ranke, Val-Dieu Grand Cru, and a Brugge Zot to finish up the night. We spent a few hours chatting with some great chaps from the UK, Guy (the drayman) and Tristan. We lost all track of time and when Martin flipped the lights on about 1am we bid everyone a good night and began our trek back to the hotel.

The city was absolutely dead quiet as we made our way back, which was very surreal. Fortunately. I had my little map and enough cognition to interpret it, as we stumbled through dim alleys and brightly-lit but sleeping boulevards. Jeff (who could have been thrown in the brig for public intoxication) pretended to be a paratrooper storming the town, ducking from opening to opening with his invisible rifle at ready, demanding “Captain Sobel” read the map properly. Normandy had obviously made a big impact on him (along with the alcohol).  Fortunately we made it, and not too worse for wear!

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