Archive for the ‘Bruges’ Category

Best of Bruges II

June 2, 2011


Bruges Markt Square - behind these lovely facades lay retail opportunities

(Miss a post?  Read the Best of Bruges Part I first!)

The ETs thoroughly enjoyed Belgian hospitality in the medieval city of Bruges.  In spite of a light rain and a disappointing hotel, we saw, we ate, we conquered.  As we mentioned in our last post, Bruges was a city of surprises which, except for the hotel, were exceedingly good.

Our second day was sunny and perfect for a canal tour by boat.  It’s very close quarters and potentially lethal for tall people every time a bridge approaches, but we had a fine time afloat and highly recommend it. 

Basilica of the Holy Blood off Burg Square. The ETs were surprised to be present for the veneration.

Our next stop was the Basilica of the Holy Blood on Burg Square.  It was a complete surprise to learn that a vial of the Blood of Christ would be on view during our visit!

The Holy Blood relic that we so much want you to see (Photo by Matt Hopkins, Wiki Commons)

Timing is everything, and the ETs lined up to venerate.  The relic is encased in a rock crystal vial, inside a glass tube with gold crown-shaped ends. The rock crystal is cut in a manner typical of 12th century Constantinople, which supports the story that it was given to Count of Flanders Diederik van de Elzas after the Crusaders sacked Constantinople in 1204.  That gives the ETs just one degree of separation from a crusader siege. 

Bisquick and a waffle iron doth not a Belgian waffle make

After the visit to the Basilica and our adventures on the high seas of Bruge canals, we deserved a treat.  The ETs vowed not to cross the border without tasting an authentic Belgian waffle.  The Verdi Tea Room was the perfect venue for our cross-cultural plans.  Although the room was decorated with tiny busts of Viennese composers, the food was purely local. 

The ETs formally attest that Belgian waffles bear no resemblence to the thick, doughy “syrup conveyances” served in diners throughout the US.  The real thing is thin and crunchy with a soft, fragrant interior.  Unsalted butter and a dusting of powdered sugar is all that’s needed.  Bruges really is full of surprises.

Pheasant “sans glass” was just perfect

And while we’re on the sacred subject of food, I must mention that we gleefully returned to Bierbrasserie Cambrinus so Nurse could have the croquettes again. This time I surprised myself and tried pheasant, which was excellent.  Of course we ordered more beers and  impressed our hosts by reciting the legislative powers of the Belgian Federal Parliament.

Windowshopping for Belgian chocolate is another "must do" in Bruges

 After saying a heartfelt goodbye to our new best friends at the bierbrasserie, we needed air.    The storefronts that aren’t selling lace or more beer belong to chocolate.  We chose the Maison du Chocolat which excelled at everything from the basic chocolate square to truffles and marzipan.

Walking-shopping in Bruges is a delight

The final surprise in Bruges was an Italian wine product called Fernet Branca.  We both loved the hillarious book Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson.  So when we saw it on a cafe menu in Bruges, it was destiny. 

Fernet Branca. The eagle is dropping the deadly spirit into the glasses of unsuspecting ETs (Morten Oddvik, WikiCommons)

Our waiter pleaded with us to try anything else on the menu, and only agreed to serve the mysterious Fernet-B.  if he brought us a “sample” first.  Belgians are a proud and caring people, and he stayed at our side while we took our first sips.  The ETs survived, thanks to the ministrations of that waiter, and now they bring this message to the world; Fernet Branca can kill.  If you want to swallow tongues of  fire that taste like paint thinner, then Fernet-B is for you. 

The Provincial Hoff in Markt Square, flying the flags to mark our unprecedented consumption of beer.

We are ready to return to Bruges as soon as we’re allowed to go back.  It is a remarkable and beautiful city that is, indeed, full of surprises.  If you get there before we do, please tell the folks at the Bierbrasserie that The ETs miss them, and stop by to admire the Fernet-B waiter’s Cross of Valor.

Paris Sidetrips: The best of Bruges

May 22, 2011

Nurse strikes a pose in Markt Square in central Bruges

Last week, I was comparing notes on Bruges with friends at My Real Job.  It put me in the mood to share two posts on this lovely city of beer and canals.

During a month-long Parisian sojurn in 2008, the Experienced Travelers rode the rails to Bruges for an overnight excursion.  The ETs remember Bruges as a city of surprises.  It’s an easy day trip from Paris and highly recommended by the ETs for all the right reasons:  history, food, shopping and walkability.

Our first surprise was learning that rail passes can complicate the simplest journey.  Just like airline frequent flier programs, each train has a finite number of rail pass seats that are often on inconvenient timetables.  Nurse applied her powers of persuasion to a reluctant ticket seller to secure the itinerary we wanted, and she triumphed.

Ring them bells! The 13th century belfry in Markt Square.

Bruges brims with medieval and renaissance architecture, cathedrals and canals that instantly delighted the ETs.  At the center of Bruges is the Markt, dominated by the 13th century belfry with a working carillon. Energetic visitors can take the steps to the top and tell us all about the view.  (If you saw the movie In Bruges, you might think twice about making the climb.)

The Markt is lined with cafes and shops, many selling lace – a Bruges specialty. The ETs spent hours exploring the streets that radiate from the square.  They’re perfect for window shopping and impossible to follow on a map, but who cares – they sell excellent beer.

The ETs made the climb with growing trepidation

Even the most rigorous travel planning occasionally fails, usually in the hotel category.  This was our next Bruges surprise.  We aren’t luxury-seekers, but we uphold the ET standard of clean, comfortable, affordable hostelry.  Our hotel in Bruges was right out of the cinéma vérité tradition where things end badly for the disillusioned lover, in a dingy room with peeling wallpaper.

After a cranky check-in, we climbed the dark, winding stairway. Nurse watched for political assassins.  I hoped that our surroundings might improve with elevation.  Alas, no.  We assessed the single light bulb, broken lamp and thin towels, and reasoned it was worth the time and Found Money to stay put.

Bottoms Up! Bierbrasserie Cambrinus

This egregious disappointment propelled us outside, where we quickly recovered the will to live.  Bruges city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historic architecture. It’s also known for its beer, and the ETs felt honor-bound to find a tall, frosty pint immediately.

It was the work of the divine hand that delivered the next surprise – Birebrasserie Cambrinus near the Markt.  Cambrinus, the King of Beer, hovers on the corner of the building holding a hefty stein.  Surely the ETs can’t go wrong with this happy royal visage guiding their steps.

Quel surprise!  To our eternal joy, this house beer is the absolute best on the planet.  We had a medium-bodied brew with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg – and generously alcoholic. Soon we were signaling for another round and practicing the Belgian national anthem.

A most excellent beef stew cooked with... beer

The menu was seasonal and interesting. I ordered a hearty beef stew that came with applesauce, fried parsley and frites.  My stew was great, but it was Nurse’s meal that brought the next Bruges surprise.

Open ye gates of the ET Gastronomy Court of Honor for Bruges croquettes de crevettes (notice the empty beer - #3 I think...)

We still talk about these croquettes de crevettes de Zeebruges – light croquettes of Trappist monk’s cheese with the tiniest, most flavorful North Sea shrimp. Despite its simplicity, this dish stands shoulder to shoulder with our Gordon Ramsay lunch in the ET Gastronomy Court of Honor.

By the time we finished, the world’s ills were repaired, the future looked promising and the ETs emerged well-disposed toward all.  This proved to be a happy omen for local merchants who warmly welcomed the ETs and American Express for the rest of the afternoon.

Click here to read more about Bruges

Nurse wants to know what's behind the red door

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