Bruges

In Bruges…

March 23, 2011

We are frantically trying to catch you up to our actual current location: Bruges (or Brugge) Belgium. It has been quite odd adding the posts to our blog that were written day of, but not posted until later. Oh well, just start from the bottom and work your way up if you want it to be chronological – and don’t mind the dates that are next to the “posted at”. So much for posterity.

 

We have been in Bruges for the last two nights and have loved this little city so much in that short amount of time. We had expected Bruges to be very quaint, rather country with not much in the way of city-life. How wrong we were. Bruges is a thriving little place with tons of shopping, chocolatiers, butchers, bakers, sights, and – our favorite – CANALS! The streets are tiny, ankle-twisting (yet beautiful!) cobblestone lined on either side by beautiful old walls and buildings. All along our rackety trip from the train station to our hotel (imagine two rolling carry-ons being dragged rather quickly over cobblestone…yea…we weren’t sneaking in) we kept wondering what city Bruges reminded us of. Not Verona, although it is definitely just as pretty, not Lucca as the streets are far too wide and there is much more to offer, maybe Avignon? We realized that Bruges may just be Bruges…and that is a-okay with us! I have to step onto my pulpit here and wonder what it is that gets in the way of appreciating a place for just what it is, as it is? The human urge to find other similarities – to help us assimilate perhaps? – can sometimes get in the way of pure enjoyment. We attempted to nip our little comparisons in the bud and marvel at the beauty that is…in Bruges.

 

This was another one of our overlapping stops with Mason and Melissa so we headed out together to see the main square with the famous Belfry Tower along with other beautiful squares full of cafes and restaurants. After seeing some beautiful sights we stopped by De Halfe Maan (The Half Moon) – the only remaining brewery in Bruges. The tour guide we had was excellent, full of funny stories and good natured humor about the competition among European countries for the most beer drinking, best beer and strongest. Some of the more memorable lines from this tour went a little something like this: the guide warned us all about over consumption of beer:  “2 or 3 tops…4 or more only if you’ve had the proper training”; the guide talking about alcohol content: “3% alcohol by volume is table beer…for the children!”. This guide was extra helpful in more ways than the tour, however, as she was able to give us a great recommendation for the local butcher (his farm is right outside the city), best baker and the market. As this is a smaller town, and that it is early in the work week, most places closed rather early prompting us to all cook in together so we happily went to the guides favorite butcher after enjoying a complimentary Halfe Maan blonde on tap.

 

For dinner that evening we all cooked in starting with delicious appetizers of local cheese, fruit and bread and later having delicious pan seared (boy that sounds way fancier than it was!) steaks, sautéed veggies and potatoes. For dessert we had the obvious: an assortment of Belgian chocolate. Delish! It can be so nice having your own kitchen while on holiday because, let’s be honest, while eating out is a lot of fun, on the euro and for 10 days straight it can lose its charm rather quickly!

 

 

Day two in Bruges started nice and early with a quick breakfast in the room and then heading out to catch the early market in Markt – this takes up almost the entirety of Bruges main square (the one with the Belfry) and consists of all kinds of fruit stands, flower stands, veggies, meats, cheeses, bakers, chocolatiers and my very favorite waffle specialists. *Some back story: I love waffles. More specifically I love SQUARE waffles (round waffles just don’t taste as good…don’t look at me like that!). So Belgium is kind of my Mecca in that one of their famous foods is the SQUARE Belgian waffle.* Ahem…so it goes without saying that I looked up to this waffle specialist with a certain gleam in my eye that said “I’m going to go climb that belfry and then I will be back. You better have some delicious waffles waiting for me!”

 

Seriously though, we did climb the Belfry with Mason and Melissa who were awesome sports at taking in this last sight before flying down the very perilous staircases to make their train to Brussels. This staircase is no joke. It starts out okay, typical winding stone stairs. But very quickly it spirals tighter into a crazy corkscrew ladder  - the only handrail is a large rope that has been anchored to the center wall. Oh, and by the way, you don’t want to touch said rope because of the nasty feel of it (and the nasty thought of how many dirty nasty snot covered hands have held onto it for dear life over the last 50 years). Try not to think of that though because, trust me, you WILL use this rope going up. We happened to be first in line so we got the awesome first view over the entire city of Bruges. Breathtaking! The weather was gorgeous, it was just late enough into the morning that all the morning haze had been burnt off leaving you with a pristine panoramic view. Lovely!

 

A quick note about Bruges – yes it’s beautiful, yes it’s like a fairy tale (swans, castles, canals, unicorns…well okay maybe just horses) but what adds to the beauty and magic of this place is that at any given five minute interval there are bells chiming from one of the, oh 20 churches or so, that litter the streets of Bruges. Everywhere you turn you hear bells chiming softly – or not so softly – not even keeping with time (9:07 anyone?). Anyway, so at the top of the MacDaddy of bell chiming towers we realize with some surprise that those bells do not turn off for mere tourists. Right as we are at the top, off they go to play the market down below another song. Luckily it was not as painfully loud as we initially expected and it was actually really cool to see the different strings attached to the all the bells playing like the strings attached to piano keys. Add the morning light beaming through and add an “ahhhh”. Beautiful.

 

 

On our way down we had to let Mason and Melissa speed on ahead of us to make that train – those daredevils! We however made several stops on the way down to view the bell room where the actual machinery that runs the ‘piano strings’ attached to the bells is housed. Here we were offering encouragement to some folks who were concerned that the bells may be too loud up top. Turns out that is a great conversation starter (“Oh no, the bells aren’t loud at all! Yes, you’re almost at the top just make sure to use the rope!”) and this couple on holiday happened to be from Charlotte and own an art gallery quite close to where we live! Such a small world!

 

As my eyes had promised I honed in on the waffle specialist after 362 steps up (and 362 down) awakened that most fearsome of hungers: The Waffle Beast. I put on my nicest “No, I won’t clean your store out!” face and informed the specialist that this was to be my very first Belgian Waffle! After deciding on toppings (plain powdered sugar and cream) he makes mine fresh right in front of my eyes. Is this place like a fairy tale or what? Literally a crowd had gathered as he was putting the finishing toppings on…it looked that good. I couldn’t help but smile and showcase my waffle a la Vanna White on Jeopardy. The crowd seemed to love it. We found a nice sunny bench and proceeded to get powdered sugar all over ourselves as we devoured these delicious concoctions. The waffle was so airy and light, it did not taste near as bad as I know it was for me!

 

After the Waffle Beast was sated we set out on a course to find our most favorite thing in the world: Canals. Brugge is not set up in the most friendly way for those who love to walk along canals *ahem* however we mapped out a nice enough route that led to some pretty awesome spots along their canals. We stopped at every bridge, admired every blooming tree, and watched every single swan (much to Adam’s dismay). We ended our walk by going through Brugge’s large parks – which has an entire swan colony, YES! – and headed to the train station to pick up our tickets for our impending departure to Paris tomorrow morning. All along the path there were accordion players and guitarists…sigh…what music to fit such scenery! Again I couldn’t help it, but in my comparison-prone mind I was already anticipating Paris and the walks along the Seine.

 

Snap out of it! Okay…so we pick up train tickets and realize that we rather enjoyed cooking in so we decided to make dinner for ourselves again that night – especially after discovering that the Belgian mussels (another famous food) are not in season right now. A stop to the grocery store and market was in order and after dropping off our things we made a simple lunch to eat on our hotels terrace – surrounded by an old brick wall with views of the Church of Our Lady. After a quick siesta we headed out into the afternoon to see the inside of the aforementioned church where Michelangelo’s “Madonna and Child” is housed – this is said to be one of the only statues that left Italy during Michelangelo’s lifetime. The church itself is massive and quite beautiful as I am discovering most gothic style churches are. Another feature they have in common: freezing cold!

 

We then peeked into several chocolate stores and might have picked up a few samples for ourselves before walking along the canals again to see about taking a boat tour. Sadly they had already had their last tour of the day so we had to settle for a seat in a great little outdoor bar where we enjoyed some aperatifs while looking at the setting sun over the Belfry and canal. (Come on, I know you’re sighing with me now!).

 

 

Tonight was a quiet one as we are anticipating a very busy three days in Paris. We cooked in having some tomato soup and grilled cheese (oldies are the best!) and finished our packing. We have thoroughly enjoyed Brugge and all the beauty it had to offer! We are up super early tomorrow to catch our train to Paris soooo au revoir!

 

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