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Published: September 22nd 2009
……and chocolate….and mussels? Of course you did and we are happy to report that they are each quite kind to the palate.
Our travels in Belgium took us to Brugge, Gent and Brussels; we had hoped to see Antwerp but that will be saved for a future trip as we ran out of time.
What we learned while in Belgium is that they have focused their talents and have become world class producers of beer and fine chocolates. They are the BEST!!!! Seriously, there can be no debate here. The beers and chocolates that we tasted were beyond compare.
One of our goals while in Belgium was to taste as many of those splendid Belgian ales as possible….and we did. I’m sure all of you would be proud of our efforts. Our good friend Sandy in Seattle always says that she only has so many reading minutes left in her life and she is not going to waste them on bad books. We have embraced this philosophy with beer, and have determined that the good beers are worth going in search of; so here were are in Belgium.
Brugge has old world charm, flower boxes
in every window and lots of canals. Brugge is a pleasant town that has a calming effect on you. In this town, few people seemed to be in a hurry. They like to stroll and so do the tourists. As in most European cities there are many beautiful old churches, parks and a beautiful main square, but this one has breweries which we can report make excellent beer.
Close to our hotel, we were delighted to find an establishment that sold over 800 kinds of beer. Nirvana at last! The wall of beer (look for the pictures in this blog) was an impressive display of the fine craftsmanship that goes into the brewing of these fine beverages. Needless to say, we imbibed in few drafts while on the premises.
We found mussels on the menu at a local restaurant and we tasted one of the best onion soups in memory.
In Brugge there is a waterway that goes through and around the center of the town and we took the obligatory boat ride to soak in the surroundings and learn of buildings and activities of long ago. One of the bridges that we floated underneath was said
to be 900 years old and it still was in amazing shape and handling auto traffic.
We stumbled across a beer store called The Beer Temple. That got our attention, so we wandered in to find a fine selection. We would have considered hauling some back to the US with us but with all the restrictions on what you can carry on these days it was not worth the effort.
On this trip, we did not partake in organized tours, but instead relied on the knowledge of the hotels and local tourist information centers. We strolled along the cobblestone roads and headed for the center of towns which usually contained a square with a market and a cathedral. Brugge is no exception. One of the local churches contains the only statue sculpted by Michelangelo that is not in Italy. It rests comfortably in Our Lady Church in Brugge. Originally made for a church in Italy, it was purchased and then shipped to Brugge in the 19th century. Quite a coup!
We also went in the Saint Salvadorie church and enjoyed listening to the organists play an impressive pipe organ. So many of the cathedrals we have visited
have a wonderful charm to them, no matter the design. And as Americans, we are always impressed on the age of some of the churches. It is hard for us to get our heads around the fact that some of these edifices were built in the 11th or 12th century. Dave would later joke that he would not go into any “new” churches which meant that any church “younger” than 400 years old. Many churches we visited on this trip were built over the span of one hundred years, mostly due to available funding.
Did you know that Brugge has a chocolate museum? How great is that? We thoroughly enjoyed learning the history and progression of chocolate from it’s beginnings in Central America and how it traveled around the world. Quick, who is the leading producer of the cocoa bean? Time’s up! It is the Ivory Coast, which produces 35 per cent of the world’s cocoa beans. It is a very labor intense process.
The various uses and power of the cocoa bean has been in transition over the years. At one time cocoa beans were a form of currency. For many years chocolate was savored only by
It is a process.
royalty and the English took a position on chocolate which borders on snobbery. We can thank Napoleon III for changing that and allow the common folk to have access to it when he lifted the tax on it in the middle of the 19th century.
Upon leaving Brugge, we needed to return the rental car to Lille, France to avoid a 300 euro charge. We took a side trip to the city of Ghent, which is another Belgian city steeped in tradition. Although we were only there a little over two hours, we took a buggy ride and learned some of the history of the city. There is a tremendous amount of restoration work taking place in Ghent, which we’re sure is quite costly and of long duration. The results will be stunning no doubt and also leave with the impression that this is a city with a sound financial standing or they could not afford these many projects.
Departing Ghent, we made for Lille which ended up taking much longer than the 45 minutes originally planned. We drove around and through this city until finally locating the rental car drop off at the train terminal. One stop
for directions found Dave inside the French equivalent of a Home Depot asking directions of a kind woman who spoke very little English. Her direction sort of got us heading in the right direction. It turned out to be a good thing that we allowed for plenty of travel time on this day.
Less than one hour’s travel time on a clean and fast Eurail train put us in Brussels, where we caught a cab to our hotel, which was located in the Sablon district of Brussels near the Grand Place and the Royal Palace.
A great first day in many cities is the hop on hop off bus because it gives you a good over view of what the city has to offer and what you’d really like to see. We’ve have utilized this type of bus in many cities, including Dubai and Paris. We took advantage of the bus in Brussels and sat as usual on the second level of the bus, which is open air and affords much better views than any tourist bus. We had the most amazing warm and sunny fall day. We wanted to sit and ride the bus all day but
Dave buying chocolate
They have more chocolate stores in Belgium than the US has Starbucks!!
instead we hoped off and had a few beers (what a surprise, eh?) and a wonderful dinner in a Turkish Grill.
If you want a treat you must travel to Brussels the third weekend in September when they have a Folk Heritage Festival. They invite groups from all over the world to wear their costumes, sing and dance in the city streets. We saw groups from England, France, Germany, Ecuador and a couple of others. They shut down the inner city streets to all vehicles except taxi’s and buses. Everyone becomes a pedestrian so they can stroll the city and enjoy all the activities. Tents were set up in parks and church parking lots—it was a giant flea market, antique show, wine and cheese tasting. This was a lot of fun and we were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time.
On our last day in Brussels we set out on a mission to eat the famous Belgian waffles. Our hotel set us off in the right direction and with minimal wrong turns we found a shop full of the prized waffles. (Please see photos) They put a little bit of everything on
a waffle. In one word, they are stupendous! They are crisp and not too sweet—depending, of course on the topping that you have selected. We had fresh strawberries and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. A taste treat.
The shop that we stopped at was around the corner from the famous statue of the little boy urinating. We continues to be baffled by the popularity of this statue.
We think everyone in Brussels had their picture taken with this little boy. We were surprised to find out that they dress him up in various costumes. The day we saw him he was wearing a blue raincoat and when we came back by in the afternoon they had changed him into a South American outfit in celebration of the Folk Arts Festival that was going on. There were two legends that we discovered concerning this little boy and we will leave the research to you if you are interested.
We struggle to understand the attraction. At one point in the day a man crawled behind the statue and inserted a keg of beer. The little boy was then urinating beer and they were giving glasses of beer to all the
Well…..that’s our trip. Hope you enjoyed the sights and descriptions as we ate and drank our way through northern France and Belgium….and learned a few things along the way!
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