It’s not that I’m tight, it’s just I refuse to cough up £26 for a plate of tough steak and fries, nor do I think a bowl of garlicky sea molluscs is worth the £17 price tag. Before my trip to medieval Bruges, I imagined sipping Belgian beer in cosy bars and strolling along scenic cobble-stoned streets where time appears to have stood still. Unfortunately, I soon discover that inflation is not stuck in this time warp and that the Flemish capital caters to the mass market with extortionate cruise ship prices. So I vow to make the most of my hard-earned cash by enjoying Bruges and its culinary delights without spending a fortune.
The hotel receptionist suggests I head to Sint- Amandsstraat Street where the locals go to grab a bite to eat. Here, I discover several delis serving up hearty portions of pasta and paninis for a mere £2.60 apiece. The Carrefour Express on Zuidzandstraat stocks enough affordable slabs of Belgian chocolate to burst the seams on my jeans. As I load up on supplies for later, the weather turns and it starts to pour with rain – the perfect excuse to start sampling that famous Belgian beer around the corner in ‘t Brugs Beertje or the “Little Bear” (brugsbeerteje.be).
Boasting more than 300 types of beer, including everything from chocolate to cherry flavours, there’s plenty of choice in this old-fashioned, characterful wooden bar to while away the hours and write postcards home to Mum, though my mantra is: why waste money on expensive postcards when beer mats are free and plentiful?
The following day, awaking fresh from a beer-induced sleep, I plan to see as many museums as possible in 48 hours using the bargain City Card (bruggecitycard.be) which costs £32 for 48 hours – or £30 if you’re 26 and under – meaning I can dash around as many as I see fit and really get my money’s worth. The tourist board reckons the card, which can be bought online or from a kiosk at Bruges train station, should save you more than £170 if you manage to visit everything in that time.
The canal boat tour offers a different perspective on the city’s picture-pretty medieval cityscape while the Dali Expo (dali-interart.be) is a sumptuously decorated museum devoted to the works of the Spanish surrealist painter. I swing by the must-see belfry, an 83-metre-tall medieval bell tower that played a starring role in the Colin Farrell movie In Bruges. I climb the 366 steps to the top of the tower, which affords fabulous views of this picturesque city.
The attraction that really captivates me, however, is the Chocostory (choco-story.be), dedicated to all things cocoarelated and best of all, dishes out free chocolate. As Belgium is particularly famous for its chips, I can’t resist a stop at the fascinating Frietsmuseum (frietmuseum.be) that professes to be “the only museum in the world to relate the history of the potato fry”. As well as selling discount chips from its basement café, the museum offers tips on how to cook the perfect friet. I discover that the Belgian chip is traditionally fried in a combination of beef and horse fat, so veggies beware!
The Half Moon Brewery (Walplein 26, halvemaan.be) offers guided tours where we learn about the history behind brewing and receive drink-related advice. I discover that an acidic snack is the best thing to replenish the gut to make the night last longer and that the coriander used in the brewing process – also found in Hoegaarden and Leffe – is actually an aphrodisiac.
On an early stroll through the historic centre on Sunday morning I notice that free souvenirs can be found in the form of discarded beer glasses on the pavement and windowsills, left from the festivities of the night before. Cambrinus bar is an unmissable drinking institution with hundreds of beers to choose from, all served in their own individual and quirky glasses and, asking nicely, I manage to get some free promotional games from McChouffe, a beer brand. What a bonus – that’s all my souvenirs acquired for free. One final word of warning to those on a budget: the local authorities don’t look fondly upon “wild peeing”. Getting caught with your pants down will cost you a not-so-cool £131!
For tourist information and concert listsings, see brugge.be and for general details see visitflanders.co.uk