Five Days in Chocolateville (Bruges)
Trip Start Mar 07, 2013
68Trip End Oct 08, 2014
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Where I stayed
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).
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.
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 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.
Chocolate wasn't our only quest in this quaint town. Belgians are also Europe's finest beer makers, claiming over 1,000 different 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".
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.