CMW reporter Oliver Thomas gives a taste of his first night at the 6th UNWTO World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism between 31 October- 2 November in Bruges, Belgium.
For 20 months I have longed to pick up my passport and venture beyond the borders of my tiny island (UK). Yet while packing my luggage, checking through my endless piles of documents and examining my numerous train connections, I started to remember all these little trepidations of international travel that were all but a distant memory from another life. I wondered to myself:
Were the other delegates feeling this same anxiety? Had I lost my touch for international travel? Did Colin Farrell also have to fill out this many forms when travelling to shoot the movie In Bruges?
With this all in mind, I arrived at London’s international railway station, Kings Cross St Pancras, and slowly made my way through security, then passport control and finally waited for my call to the Eurostar platform. My excitement soon superseded my anxiety. I forgot how the mere formalities of border regulations and endless queues could really stir my senses of adventure.
After three hours of trains and three different countries, I had arrived in Bruges. Shortly after chucking my bags in my hotel room and scrubbing up in some slightly more polished clothes, I set off on a short walk to the 6th UNWTO World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism’s welcome dinner at the famous ‘De Karmeliet’ restaurant.
As I strolled through the city of Bruges an instant connection was made. The streets were packed with bustling restaurants and bars, filled with locals and tourists alike. As I navigated the narrow lanes and canals, I could hear the clipping and clopping of the horse and carriages trotting down the cobbled streets. It was as if I had travelled back in time. The weather was crisp, but the city was warm. Bruges’ timeless character gave it a identity that was notably unique.
When I arrived at the former three Michelin star restaurant, delegates from all around the world were already in attendance. Delegates from places such as Lithuania, Maldives, Congo, Peru, Italy, US and more, choose to be there in-person, rather than the optional digital format. When delegates have the opportunity to be unlocked from their computer screens, meet colleagues face-to-face, and explore new destinations, the desire for in-person meeting and serendipity is clear to see.
While the night was full of re-connecting and sharing lockdown stories, Bruges’ gastronomy was at the heart of proceedings. The 10-course taster menu gave us an all-round glimpse into what this region had to offer. This was not just gastronomy, but it was an insight into the soul of the region. At this point, it was clear to me why Bruges was selected as host of the 6th edition of this forum. Bruges epitomises a destination that understands its gastronomic identity and embraces it.
As I walked back to my hotel room that night, I was enthused by the diversity and expertise of delegates, the warmth of the city, and most importantly, the potential that this forum and destination had to make a lasting impression on myself and all others in attendance.
(Photo- Visit Flanders)