I need to watch “In Bruges” again. We spent the day today wandering around the old city, guided by Christa, who seems to have really taken us under her wing. Well, she seems to do that with everyone. Bruges is her hometown, so I think she really was looking forward to giving us a tour, along with the Brit who is currently staying with her.
Bruges is probably what most Americans think of when they envision an old European city. Gothic architecture, cobblestone streets, and lots of history. Oh, and canals. Lots of canals. If Christa is right (she tells a lot of stories, and has a great poker face), Amsterdam has canals because that city was started by former residents of Bruges.
I can’t possibly recount everything Christa talked about, so I’ll stick with the highlights. One of the best was a statue of Mary and Jesus by Michael Angelo that is inside the cathedral in Bruges. The story behind it being in Bruges was interesting. Apparently the work was originally commissioned by a bishop in Rome, but when said bishop became Pope, he tried to short change Michelangelo. Evidently he didn’t like that, so he walked into a tavern, announced he had a statue for sale, and a merchant from Bruges purchased it. You can see the statue by paying a 4 Euro entry fee at the cathedral, which is full of a great deal more history (many of the nobles of Flanders/Burgundy were buried in it), and there are other graves dating from the 11th century too.
We tried to stop by a brewery, which was obviously brewing (what a sweet aroma!), but they weren’t open to the public. We were able to go to the Gruuthaus. Gruut (or gruit) was the blend of spices used to counteract the sweetness of beer before brewers started using hops. The Gruuthaus in Bruges was where the merchants who controlled the trade throughout Europe had their warehouse and headquarters. The area was carefully guarded, almost like a castle, even with a cannon above the main entry gate.
I wondered how quickly gruit’s economic downfall came once hops became the norm. Hops really became useful in the middle ages because of their preservative quality – the hop acids and other compounds in them are antibacterial, so beer brewed with hops lasts longer than without. This isn’t much of an issue any longer since most beer is Pastuerized. Hops also don’t poison people – sometimes gruit included things like henbane, nightshade and psychedelic mushrooms.
A visit to Bruges probably wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a Chocolaterie. Christa took us to the Chocolaterie Sukerbuyc, a family-owned choclate shop where all the chocolates are hand made. We were given a nice lecture about how choclates are made, followed by a sample of some chocolates. The shop had a huge selection of different chocolates available – it would be like the John’s Market of chocolates, except all were made there, in the shop. Christa surprised all of us with little bags of three chocolates each, as an apology for the “bad day” we had when our bus driver went to the wrong town to pick us up.
Well, this is the last post I’ll make from our class. Gudrun and I have learned a lot, and have some great ideas for how to improve it next time (although, it really went well this round). Almost all the groups have made up recipes for next year’s class, which will be back in Oregon. I hope to arrange some different visits for that class – maybe one of the local malting facilities, and hopefully to visit the fermentation sciences folks at Oregon State, in addition to our regular brewery tours. I’ll miss this group of students, I’ll look forward to working with Gudrun again, and I’ll be very happy to be home with my family (and really great tasting tap water)!