Monday, April 29, 2013

Lovely Bruges or Brugge

Brugge has two spellings, one Dutch and the other French and we discovered that most everyone spoke three languages, including English. I think its fantastic that Europeans are generally bilingual or trilingual. We were excited to see Belgium to not only experience a new city, but to meet up with the Goodwin's, who were celebrating their 15 year wedding anniversary that weekend. We were told by friends that Brugge was the most beautiful town to visit in Belgium and so we stayed there two nights at a quaint Bed & Breakfast just off the main plaza called B&B Geeraert, a neoclassical mansion converted to an inn. The three story mansion is impressive, especially the narrow and winding staircase that cascades up to the guest rooms. The inn had only three rental rooms, but each one was spacious and decorated nicely. The spiral staircase up was a good walk to the third floor and the view from the room was scenic with antiquated buildings surrounding us.

Our early evening arrival was met with warm, comfortable weather and we went to enjoy the infamous Belgium beer at the main square with Tim & Tina, our usual travel partners who enjoy travel, adventure and great food. The cobblestone streets surrounded the plaza with tea houses as they call them, but they're just restaurants that have outdoor patios for people-watching. The architecture looked like we were at Disneyland. Horse drawn carriages took visitors for tours so the town resembles even more like the magic kingdom.

Great beer, great food and great friends...the perfect recipe to a fantastic and memorable holiday. We were on a quest to discover as many nice beers as possible and there were several outstanding selections that tasted unlike any regular beer. Belgium beers also have a high alcohol content, ranging from 8%-12% and they taste smooth without any bitterness. The usual American brew has 3-5%. Our favorites were Westvleveren and St. Bernardus. Most of these beers are Trappist, meaning they are made at a monastery. The monks knew how to make excellent beer and the companies that still make them have perfected their recipes.

Belgium's food scene is hearty with hundreds of restaurants, including many Michelin starred ones as well. We dined at one of the nearby pubs the first night and enjoyed the coveted Westvleveren beer plus a delicious beef carpaccio for me. Tina's pork cheeks were the favorites. Very juicy and tender.

The following morning, we ate breakfast at the inn which served fresh juice, coffee/tea, a basket of breads & croissants accompanied by jams, Nutella, chocolate spreads, mixed fruit cup and slices of ham and cheese. It wasn't anything spectacular, but it was fresh and tasty. Unfortunately, the gray skies hovered above with rainfall forecasted all day long. Rain didn't prevent us from touring the sites on foot. It did stop us from renting bikes but that was OK. The trams may have been a bit too dangerous to navigate around on bikes. We walked several miles that day, shopped in the stores and ate mussels for lunch. Our walk took us to the ends of the town to the parks and canals and an unlikely cafe called The One, where I had a imaginative cup of hot chocolate near the fire. They served me a cup of hot milk and a chocolate lollipop which I dipped into the milk until it melted. The fire warmed us up, just at the right time.

We were told that some local bands would be playing near the Burg plaza but they were mediocre at best. Unimpressed by the first band,we had a late dinner at a seafood place near the Burg and it ended up to be an amazing find. We sat next to the fish tank with the bright orange fish that peeked at our meals. My vegetarian curry lentil & rice pilaf was very good and Russ' shrimp scampi was cooked to perfection. In fact, when he was attempting to cut the shrimp in half with his fork, the fork slipped and the white cream sauce literally flew across the room to the other table where an older woman was wiping her glasses. Tim later noticed that Russ splattered the fish tank and the fish were trying to lick the glass tank, thinking it was fish food.

That night, Tim suggested we go to the American pub where a rockabilly band from London played. They reminded me of the Stray Cats and were actually quite good so Russ bought a souvenir T-shirt and CD: Sixteen and the Sidewinders. No one will have that one in Saipan!

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