Any direction from our charming hipster hostel led down a twisty cobbled lane, dotted with flowers, vines, and leaning bicycles. You’d be forgiven for thinking Bruges an amazingly well-preserved Medieval town, each stone, stepped-roof building a slight variation on its neighbor. But look closer and you’d see brightly colored plaques separating the boys from the men, the 18th-century replicas from the Medieval structures.
We stopped in at a brewery so popular it had to build underground pipes to supply its beer to neighboring restaurants, a year-round Christmas store, a sweet shop selling velvety chocolate monkeys.
We drank espresso next to preening swans, ate spaghetti from Chinese takeout boxes in the central square, admired hollyhocks sprouting from cobbles.
We read about a decrepit building-turned-community garden, then stumbled upon it, bravely stepping past a cautionary sign to poke about in the flowers.
We went to church after glorious church.
One former cathedral had drilled a giant tree trunk swing into its starry ceiling, and we spent half an hour spinning weightlessly.
On the final day, we woke to rain and wind, so we went down to the lounge for breakfast and never left, whiling away the drizzly hours reading (short stories by Alice Munro for me, a trashy 60s novel for Chelsea). We made an afternoon sojourn down the stony corridor to a bookstore, where we bought dusty paperbacks from the tiny English section. After savoring a parting tripel, we reunited with our backpacks and marched out for the bus to the train to Ghent.