In Brugessels

Five weeks ago Andrew and I set off on a very early morning Eurostar across to Belgium for a weekend getaway. Apologies for the lack of posting this blog, we have been busy with work, study, finding a new flat and a trip home to New Zealand to add to the mix. So I’ll do my best at remembering our trip to the wonderful country of beer and chocolate.

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After conflicting opinions from friends on whether to spend our time in Bruges or Brussels we decided why not try and do both? So on arrival into Brussels we hopped straight on the next train to Bruges which is only another hour away. Unfortunately for us, our Eurostar driver had given us the platform number to the slow train to Bruges…two hours later we arrived. Yes, that’s only an hour difference but that cut into our precious daylight sightseeing hours and the all important eating and drinking time! Luckily we had picked up some chocolate treats to keep us happy and Andrew thrashed me at a few rounds of Rummikub – a great little travel game.

Upon arrival, we hastily hunted down a restaurant for lunch and tucked into some mussels, fries, croquettes and delicious Belgian beer at Poules Moules. The mussels were quite a lot smaller than what we are accustomed to back home but I actually preferred them like that.

Bruges is a quaint medieval town lined with cobbled streets and canals. Many blogs and websites I read prior to going called it the most romantic European city (after Paris) and while I could see its charm it didn’t completely win me over. I wonder if the gloomy grey day had anything to do with that however. Nevertheless we enjoyed strolling the streets, enjoying the architecture (what we like to call “old shit”) and then decided to check into our hotel just before it started to snow!

After a wee rest (we did get up at 5am) we set out for round two and tried unsuccessfully to get a beer at De Garre (it was packed) then 2be Beer Wall (which was closed!) then landed a table at ‘t Brugs Beertje sharing with a local man who spoke an impressive seven languages. This beerhouse is located in the heart of Bruges shopping area and boasts an impressive menu of more than 300 brews. Old mate talked us through the menu and kindly recommended some of his favourites, including an 11.3% Trappistes Rochefort 10 that Andrew tackled. Trappist beers are brewed by monks in Trappist monasteries. Of the 170 Trappist monasteries in the world, just 11 produce beer but between them they brew some of the most famous and exceptional beers ever made. 6 out of 11 of these are located in Belgium. Now I was beginning to understand why this place is so well-known for its beers!

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On Sunday we headed back to Brussels and made our way to La Grand Place, or De Grote Markt, which was really quite impressive. This is the main square in Brussels and attracts thousands of tourists every year making it one of the most important landmarks in Belgium. Luckily for us being the low-season the square was almost empty and we got to enjoy these grandiose buildings without getting in the way of peoples selfies.

The next thing high on our agenda was to track down some famous waffles. My Belgian friend explained to me that there are two types of waffles – Brussels and Liege – and I must try both! The former are light and crispy rectangular waffles while the Liege version is usually dougher, an irregular shape and has beads of sugar within them that caramelise as they cook. You can choose to have your waffle topped with icing sugar, whipped cream, melted chocolate, caramel, fruit, icecream…the combinations are endless making it a tough choice! I’m drooling just looking at these photos again.

Bruges and Brussels have quite a contrasting feel to them. While Bruges is quaint and cute we thought Brussels had a bit more character and grittiness to it. Maybe that’s because of the street art which you don’t find in Bruges. Recently there has been some explicit murals that have started appearing on the city’s walls and this year residents are upset over some new gory pieces including a struggling child with a blade to his neck awaiting slaughter.

We managed to cover some good ground in Brussels and found ourselves at the Le Botanique which is now used as a cultural and music venue. We weren’t allowed inside so amused ourselves skidding around the icy gardens.

After walking about a half marathon we decided it was time for a reward – this time it was fries that we sought. It is rumoured that French fries can actually be traced back to Belgium. Belgian fries however, are slightly different to your typical french fries in that they are thicker and cooked twice. They are a popular street food in Belgium served in cones or trays with small forks or toothpicks and doused with delicious condiments. We went for the works with mayonnaise, ketchup and sweet onions. They were to die for!

We rounded up the trip with another delicious trappist beer at A La Bécasse, which is one of the oldest pubs in downtown Brussels, and not at all touristy – although could’ve been down to the quiet season. Again this was definitely a trip more focused around the local food and beverages but there is still plenty of sights to be seen in Brugessels.

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