Five Days in Chocolateville (Bruges)

Trip Start Mar 07, 2013
Trip End Oct 08, 2014

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Where I stayed

Flag of Belgium  , West Flanders,
Sunday, December 8, 2013


Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate everywhere! Without much exaggeration, every other shop here is a chocolate shop. So much chocolate that I don't see the "need" to eat it all the time - true chocolate overload. Bruggians are connoisseurs of fine chocolate. Each shop displays a sign stating that it has the best or the finest chocolate, or the longest in business, etc. Undaunted by the enormity of the task, Rick and I searched until we found the ultimate, best chocolate store (with help from Rick Steves). The many varied chocolate sculptures are magnificent.  Since before Thanksgiving, we have been looking for turkey and dressing for dinner (apparently turkey is served only at Christmas) ... so this is all we were able to find. Oh, break my heart!

In the Netherlands and in Belgium, the most common mode of transportation has to be the bicycle, which has unquestioned right of way over pedestrians. When we go to the train station we see literally 10's of thousands of bicycles parked in neat rows. This is one of the fancier bikes we've seen. It has a full sized baby seat with a lambs wool seat cover and convertible top. The driver's seat and handle bar grips appear to be genuine leather. Otherwise most bikes are junkers, intentionally so as a deterrent to a high theft rate.

The town of Bruges has a sense of being fictional; some locals correctly refered to it as being like "Disneyland". The iconic scenes shout "Belgium."  The center of Bruges is surrounded by what used to be a moat and is now a beautiful, tranquil canal.  During our 5 days here, we never tired of walking up and down the same streets or discovering new ones. The beauty and picture-book qualities drew us to take many more pictures than we could manage. Whether it was day or night, this little town enthralled us. 

The City Hall housed one of the most gilded rooms we have seen to date, the Gothic Room. Windows of stained glass, carved wooden statues gilded in gold, murals depicting the thousand year history of the little hamlet are characterized this single room.  

As throughout Europe, there are many cathedrals here too. We entered, pondered the history, enjoyed the stained glass windows and marveled at the ornate statues and pulpits.  

Dark (and cold) nights offered dramatic scenes in a memorable town. The evening skies made the silhouettes even more dramatic.  

Chocolate wasn't our only quest in this quaint town. Belgians are also Europe's finest beer makers, claiming over 1,000 different beers.  Starting with a tour at The De Halve Maan Brewery which makes the only beers actually brewed in Bruges, we sampled their Brugse Zot (Fool from Bruges) and Straffe Hendrik (Strong Henry - 11% alcohol). We loved them both. . At the "Beer Wall", we had to laugh at some famous comments regarding the virtues of beer. With so many taverns we need to be somewhat discriminating, so we stopped in at the oldest bar in town, Herberghe Dissinghe, cirica1515! I had a traditional fish soup and Rick had probably the best quiche I have ever tasted, and of course more great Belgian beers.  
We took a 'Rick Steve-recommended' side trip to Ghent, a 30-minute train trip half way between Bruges and Brussels. We learned that many of the public buildings are constructed with 3 different materials, gray limestone (exhibiting their wealthy during a textile era), yellow sandstone (the beginning of Ghent's economic decline), and red brick (the poor-man's building material). It was said that the people of Ghent turned their noses up to the Bruggians because Bruges was built mostly from red brick. Rick Steve's describes the late 1800s and early 1900s as a time of powerful nationalism for Ghent. Talking with some young Ghent's in the Christmas Markets, we discovered that this strong nationalism is still very much alive. When we told them that we were staying in Bruges, one of them commented that Bruges was "just a Disneyland propped up to look quaint" but that "Ghent is real, real people, real work". Well, ok then. The Christmas Markets and the season attracts carnival rides to the town.  

Walking through the Christmas Markets, we saw a kiosk selling a hardy wine-drenched potato, cheese & bacon dish that tasted as delicious as it looked and smelled. The shop keeper cooked this dish up in the largest pan I have ever seen.
Of course we did some cathedral hopping in Ghent. The Cathedral of St. Bavo houses three impressive art treasures, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Jan Ven Eyck and his brother Hubert, the elaborately carved, massive pulpit and the altar painting by Rubens.

Before leaving Ghent, we knew we needed to try some different beers. Again following Rick Steves' suggestion, we found a unique bar where we tried a local beer, "Gruut", which is made without hops but is flavored with a medieval mix of herbs called "gruit".  Again, a delicious brew.  Here is a beer trick I learned in Bruges. Try to figure out how we held that beer on its side without spilling it.

Our last day in Bruges was again too cold for bicycling, so we set out on foot hunting for windmills and ... we found one! Great, got the photo, now to find a warm tavern. I will leave you with an iconic, sunset view of Bruges. 
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Valerie Richardson on

All that chocolate, and where's is the wine to pair? or Port? Beer and chocolate, not so good. Looks like another beautiful spot to land in!

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