Thursday, June 17, 2010

In Bruges........for real.

While we haven't seen the movie, nevertheless, we were inspired to take a train to Belgium last week to visit Bruges (silent "s") and Brussels.  Despite an early mishap on the train ride over, where Marisa forgot that we had a seat reservation resulting in us standing in the hot area in between train cars and also in front of two bathrooms for an hour to Cologne, I'd say we had a really awesome time.

Bruges was beautiful and was a lot of fun just walking around all of the fun side-streets, past chocolate shops, waffle and fry stands, and beer stores.  Apparently this city was a really prominent place for trade back in the 1600s, then hit a huge slump until it was "rediscovered" as a tourist attraction in the 20th century.  We stayed in a bed-and-breakfast which was a new experience for us, but we loved it.  Our host, Rita, was amazing and really friendly.  She had her husbands artwork (paintings and stained glass mostly) on display and hooked us up with a nice breakfast each day of our stay.

These ain't no ugly ducklings (we had a national geographic moment)

Bruges market square with the famous Belfry, or bell tower, that can be climbed for 8 Euros (didn't fall for that one)

While there are many chocolatiers, we tried this one upon recommendation from our guide book.  It's a bit overwhelming with all of the variety so we went for a sampler with some of their best.  It was like an upscale Russell Stovers - way upscale.  Plus this place didn't have chocolate body parts on display in the window like many other chocolate shops (maybe they're marketing to bachelor and bachelorette parties).

One of several views of the canals that made this city so picturesque

One of Michelangelo's works on display in the big church in town.  Not sure that the picture quite does this piece justice - it was immaculate (or maybe it was subconscious since we knew it was a "Michelangelo").  They also had the "blood of Christ" there, but I really don't know what that means.

Supposedly the most photographed view of Bruges.  Add another notch on that belt.

The highlight had to be the brewery tour at the only remaining brewery in Halve Maan, which makes three tasty beverages: the blond, dubbel, and tripel.  We had a nice look around the place and enjoyed trying all three!

At the de Halve Maan where we tried the "Brugse Zot" (fool of Bruges) blonde (6%) and dubbel (9%).

Perhaps the best belgian beer we had.......the Straffe Hendrik ("strong Henry") trippel (12%)

Nice little park with a special section for the ducks and swans.

the 't Brugs Beertje was a fun little pub where we sampled some more belgian brew and met some Kiwis (New Zealanders) that were traveling Europe for a few months.

Sweet windmills lined the outer canal around Bruges.  I'd never seen one before and I'm still not very certain as to the purpose of these things.

In the garden of the oldest bar in Bruges I sampled one of Hoegaarden's other varieties.......the Grand Cru.  Not too shabby - I was just glad to know that there are other brews from Hoegaarden.

About an hour train ride east was the capital city of Brussels, both for Belgium and Europe (unoffically).  Brussels could hardly be compared with Bruges because it was so different, but we liked both for different reasons.  While Brussels was a real trashy place (literally, there was trash that needed to be picked up pretty much everywhere), but it was also very interesting.  We took a bike tour around the city to see all of the sites, including: the most impressive town square I've seen yet, a famous statue of a pissing boy, headquarters of the executive and legislative branches of the European Union, palaces for the Belgian royalty, and the massive Atomium.  We had the chance to visit the Magritte Museum, which is the Belgian painter that is famous for his surrealistic paintings such as the man in the suit with the boller hat and an apple covering his face.  He had some amazing stuff...........sorry, no pictures were allowed!

Looking down into some gardens in Brussels

Some dork had the great idea of placing with primary color filters on the tops of the buildings, providing us with countless minutes of entertainment - after we had a brief physics lesson on color mixing with light that is.

Most awesomest European plaza these eyes have ever seen.  Always packed with people.

More of the plaza......

Mannekin Pis - famous statue that people love to photograph (I'd never heard of it until we walked by it randomly).  This kid definitely doesn't have stage fright.

It's a tradition that the Mannekin Pis wears random costumes like this "Panda" outfit.  Apparently there's a whole committee dedicated to decking out this little guy.

"Delirium Cafe" which set a Guinness World Record for number of beers served commercially at one time - current record is 4,001.  Luckily they don't have a passport club like Taco Mac.

Inside Delirium Cafe

Post 4-hour city bike tour.  It was a nice way to check out all of the sites of Brussels.

The supposed "best french fries in Brussels" in my right hand and the most interesting beer glass that Belgium has to offer.  This one is called "Kwak" and always comes in this holder when it's served at a bar.  Sort of reminded me of my first chemistry set (j/k, but kind of does).

The Atomium (as if you couldn't guess) - built in 1958 World's Fair to resemble the structure of Carbon, which is what coal is made of, which is abundant in Belgium.  The nine molecules represent the nine provinces of Belgium at the time of its construction.  You can take an elevator to restaurants and exhibits inside them, but we were short on time and 11 Euros per person.

More chrome than Bike Week in Daytona!

There happened to be a latin festival going on outside the Atomium and one of the highlights was the Spanish horse trainers having their horses do all kinds of silly things like jump up on two legs, kneel down on his front legs, strut around, and pop a chub about half a meter long (not shown to keep the blog PG-13).  So it was both funny and impressive at the same time.

One more stop before heading back to Frankfurt.  Moeder Lambic was a trendier Belgian beer bar that only sold microcraft brew and the bartender was tremendously knowledgeable about all of the beers on the menu.

We learned what a true "lambic" beer is and Marisa went out on a limb with this "Geuze" beer that was a bit sour, but traditional for this area.

Little known fact......Brussels has the largest cartoonist population in the world.  Here's a mural to commemorate some of the most famous.  If you look closely towards the bottom you will notice a Smurf or two...........originally a Belgian cartoon! 

All in all, Belgium was a great trip and we're glad that we were able to see two different sides of it.  I'd love to come back and do a Trappist beer tour. (Trappist beers, by definition, are brewed by monks in a monastery and sold for profit that must go to the monastery)

The End...........for now!

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