Thursday, October 16, 2008

Brugge – a chocolate covered, medieval city

It wasn’t until I moved to Amsterdam and the Colin Farrell movie came out that I had heard of Brugge (in Belgium). From what I gathered it is a romantic, medieval gem so I was very eager to make a weekend trek to see it for myself. Happily my teacher friends, being of likeminded interests in travel and new experiences, were also just as excited to go so off we went at the first available opportunity.
Although the crowded, rush hour train out of Amsterdam made for a bit of a frazzled start, the rest of the weekend went beautifully. Arriving just before 9pm, we meandered through the cobbled stone streets, while taking in the impeccably preserved medieval buildings and salivating over the chocolate store window displays on the way to our hotel. After dropping our stuff we headed out to a local restaurant, picked for it’s late hours and lax reservation policy. It quickly became clear that we had stumbled into Brugge’s best kept dining secrets. The owners, Jeron and Jo couldn’t have been any friendlier or attentive to us, and the food was phenomenal! We ordered oysters for a starter, which came right out of the tank before our very eyes, and our new friends also gave us complimentary cold meats to begin our meal. After hearing about the house specialty -- pepper steak from the very finest Frisian cows, 90% of which would be prepared tableside -- we were all sold. To conclude our lovely meal we had a sampler platter of various super sweet and highly caffeinated chocolates and bite sized desserts. I didn’t get much sleep that first night but it was truly all worth it!
The next morning we made our way towards the main city centers, the Markt and Burg squares, stopping only to gawk at the endless chocolate displays and to feed ourselves some coffee & Belgian waffles!
We worked off our breakfast by climbing the 366 steps of the 289’ tall Belfort where we were rewarded with stunning city views and a front row seat to the inner workings of the regularly chiming carillon. Our next stop was the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which gained its name from the relic it houses – a vial containing Christ’s blood that was brought to Belgium after the Crusades between 1150 and 1200. Unfortunately no photos were allowed, but I was able to lay my hands on the plexi-glass protective covering over the vial and say a little prayer for all my loved ones.
Having had our fill of the sites we decided to stop for lunch and enjoy some of Belgium’s other culinary triumphs – fries & beer! I ordered the Kwak Amber Ale that came served in a wooden frame while my friends went for some Belgium blondes and fruitier beers.
After lunch we continued our stroll by the very clean and wide canals, so much different than Amsterdam or Venice, and eventually made our way to Spegelaere Chocolaterie where we purchased lots of gifts and a nice sampling for ourselves. We enjoyed our snack at a very local bar/café with coffee and a strictly 50+ clientele. Off the main bar there was an open room where a room who very much resembled my mother stood ironing while just outside her window men relieved themselves in the urinals that were positioned just out front of the ladies room.
En route to dinner we stopped into a few pubs boasting menus of 400+ beers to sample more local brews, one named for the original “king of beer” – Cambrinus, a legendary king to whom people have accredited the invention of beer.
The highlights of Sunday included another amazing Belgian waffle for breakfast – chocolate & banana this time, mm mm good!, more chocolate shopping, and a giant vending machine in the Brussels train station where I bought a whole bottle of wine for 3 EUR!
Unfortunately our trip ended with the same annoying train frustrations as it began but Brugge being such an amazing, relaxing, and interesting place was definitely well worth the hassle!

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