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EXPLORING
BELGIUM'S CITIES
BRUGES • GHENT • LIÈGE
by Rich Rubin

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Imagine a world where gay marriage is legal and GLBT couples are fully accepted. Add towns that ooze charm, a culinary scene where Michelin stars are as common as knives and forks, a train system that actually works, and a population that’s multilingual and unbelievably sweet. Wait. That’s not imaginary. It’s Belgium. This tiny country is too often overlooked as travelers jet to its more well-known neighbors. Take some time, though, to explore this winning land of equal rights. Go beyond capital Brussels, past glorious second city Antwerp. What you’ll find is a series of distinctively fascinating towns in both the Flanders (Dutch-speaking) and Wallonia (French-speaking) areas. Let’s visit a few, all within an easy train ride of Brussels. Day-tripping is possible if you just want to get a taste, but I’d suggest staying and really soaking up the very different atmospheres of these unique destinations.

BRUGES
Probably the most famous of Belgium’s smaller cities, Bruges offers more than meets the eye. Sure, it’s a showpiece of centuries-old architecture, with a town center that’s a UNESCO world heritage site. Sure, it gets unbearably crowded, especially on weekends. As you explore, though, you’ll begin to uncover Bruges’ many pleasures.

Start at Burg, the lovely square where you can see a procession of architectural styles side by side. The medieval St. Basil with its evocative Chapel of the Holy Blood is on one end, the flamboyantly gilded Sixteenth-Century Recorder’s House on the other. Between the two lies the Gothic town hall, a Fourteenth-Century white sandstone building covered with statues, crests, and twisty, double-pillared chimneys. Last year, locals tell me, seventy gay or lesbian couples married in this town hall.

In nearby Markt, a vast open square with swirling cobblestones, gabled buildings, horses and carriages, and tons of cafés, I admire the imposing belfry and high, decorative roofs that were status
symbols; this was a very wealthy town. In fact, the first stock exchange in the world was formed in Bruges by a family named Vanderbeurse who gave their name to the word “bourse,” used in many languages to mean stock exchange.

In the nearby Our Lady Church, I’m surprised to find a Michelangelo Madonna. In the Bruggemuseum, I delight in the collection of everyday objects, from furniture and silverware to ceramics and lace (a Bruges specialty). In the achingly picturesque courtyard between the two, there’s a startlingly modern depiction of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. “Look at this one,” smiles Olivier van Gierdeghom of Jong & Hib, the local gay group, as we walk by. When I approach the statue I see what he’s referring to: this horseman has a gigantic erection. “It’s a secret gay thing,” laughs Olivier.

On charming Simon Stevinplein, I discover another delight: The Chocolate Line, where young chocolatier Dominique Persoon

is making some of Belgium’s most interesting chocolates. Raspberry bursts with flavor, lemongrass is light and refreshing, wasabi lends spiciness, and cola chocolates have bits of “popping” candy inside, creating the illusion of soda bubbles. One spectacular little number has three layers: marzipan and black olives, white chocolate ganache with basil, and sun-dried tomato chutney. Sound odd? It’s amazing.

They’re perfect little treats in a city full of culinary treats. Leader of the pack is de Karmeliet, Bruges’ three Michelin star restaurant. Enter its elegantly simple interior, and you know you’re in for pleasure. Splurge on a tasting menu—four appetizers, a main, and several desserts—for a definition of heaven. I also like Kardinaalshof, where the atmosphere is elegant but homey, and the food is creatively wonderful, with choices like ginger/coriander monkfish and pheasant stuffed with celery mousse. A relative newcomer, de Verleiding, is a winner. This friendly, hip, and creative spot has a sleek, modern interior and equally unfussy food, from warm goat cheese salad to tagliatelle with tiger prawns and curry. Don’t miss it. Also try lesbian-owned ‘t Botaniekske, located in a 1612 home, where the house specialty is actually spare ribs!

Looking for a pick-me-up between fabulous meals? Stop in de Proverie for sinful pastries. Also visit Bistro Hollywood, practically across the street from the modern concert hall (built for Bruges’ 2002 stint as European Cultural Capital). The pictures of Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe on the way up to the restrooms should clue you in that it’s gay-owned.

While there aren’t exactly a thousand gay bars, the community here is open, active, and dedicated. Jong & Hib (the first word means “young,” the second means “hip” and also stands for “Homosexual in Bruges”), founded in 2002, is making the gay community much more visible with stands at the town’s cultural festival, a monthly film and social night, and summer camping trips. They’re working on getting a rainbow flag officially approved by the city council, and they’ve placed a selection of gay DVDs and gay literature in the local library.

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There are four GLBT groups in town: Jong & Hib, the Christian group Effeta, lesbian group Goudou, and transgender group TGV. There is, however, only one “official” gay bar, Bolero, and that’s undergoing a change in ownership as we go to press, so it might or might not remain a haven for “gossipy forty-somethings and young sluts,” to use one local’s description. After ringing the bell and gaining entrance, you’ll find a diminutive space, with a slightly curving bar, a smattering of tables, and a small dance area, most crowded later at night.

Most of the community tends to go to mixed places, such as B-In, a hip little bar that draws a young crowd for pre-dancing drinks on its gray and orange foam couches. Try also De Versteende Nacht, a mixed club that often attracts a lot of forty-plus gay men for live jazz. Have a drink at de Kleine Nachtmuziek (the numerous bottles in the window, and more on the piano inside, show you there’s a large selection), then check out nearby de Republiek, a huge place with a big terrace, wood floors and tables, and cream walls. Next door to a cinema, it’s a popular meeting place (and very gay-friendly).

It’s good to have friendly spots to duck into, as the town can be overwhelmingly crowded at times. Olivier smiles that he’s had tourists, thinking they’re in an architectural/medieval theme park, ask him (seriously apparently) when it closes for the night. When the crowds thronging the narrow streets begin to get to you, and you can’t face one more lace shop, walk through the “green belt” around the town center, a surprising amount of parkland right in the city. You’ll see a different, peaceful Bruges.

Better yet, spend the night. Check into a place such as Oud Huis Amsterdam, in a Seventeenth-Century mansion overlooking a canal in the heart of town, or de Brugsche Suites, a luxury guesthouse adorned with antiques, a short walk from the city center, and run by a friendly, helpful gay couple. At night the city is yours. When the day-trippers leave, you’ll be able to stroll the now-quiet medieval streets, so perfectly preserved, and get a new appreciation for the utter charm of Bruges. For all its touristic qualities (and touristic mobs), it really is a wonderful town, and once the visitors have left for the day and the sun sets across the canals, you’ll see what drew them here in the first place.

Continued
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Bjour à toute l'equipe de passeport j'aimerais avoir la rue et si possible le telephone des associations gays de brugge
- njalom bissengue francois , brugge belgique

j'aimerais avoir la rue et si possible le numero de telephone des associations gays de brugge
- njalom bissengue francois , brugge belgium


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