Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tales of Beer and Chocolate

Saturday morning we were awoken by clanging and banging under our hotel window. When I looked out, a market had been set up in the plaza outside, underneath the naked man. Well, I don't mind someone waking me up for that!

After breakfast, we explored the market. It was a nice mix of food (serious outdoor stall trucks, nothing like what I see at outdoor markets at home, much more like mobile stores), clothing, household goods and . . . sewing goodies. I was so happy to see the craft truck, even though I couldn't decide which buttons I needed. Probably because I don't need any.

Bruges is a town built on canals - not like Venice, there are streets and you don't have to cross water to get everywhere - but it was a big center for trade up until the late 1500s when the harbor started to silt up and ships couldn't get in anymore. The former harbor is now a lake at the foot of town near the train station, full of ducks and swans, and surrounded by tiny step-gabled houses, a church and a convent.

I read somewhere that there are 50-odd chocolate shops in Bruges alone. I believe it. Sometimes there were 3 or 4 in a row on the same street, which means that the smell was almost overwhelming. There were chocolates in every color, shape and size (and cup size, if you'll note the photo; I almost brought a set of those home for my boss, but a photo will mean the same thing and not cost 20 euros). Sorry.

Beer is everywhere in Belgium. I don't like beer; I think it tastes (and smells) like fermented gym socks. But there are so many different beers in Belgium that I was willing to try them out, generally by taking a wrinkle-nosed sip of whatever Mario was having. Kriek, a cherry beer, was actually kind of tasty, but still nothing I'd drink by choice.

There's a working brewery in Bruges, and for the 5.50 euro admission, you get a full tour of the facility and then a glass of Brugse Zot (translates to the Fool of Bruges) in the brewery's cafe afterward. Before you pay for the tour, you're confronted with a sign in many languages that warns "not recommended for those with vertigo or fear of heights." They should have also mentioned not for those with hips exceeding 34", because I got into some exceedingly tight spots climbing up and down narrow metal stairs in between brewing vats and up onto the roof. They also weren't kidding about the vertigo thing. I don't have a fear of heights, but let's say I have a discomfort when I don't feel that the surface under my feet is secure. Stairs and platforms made of metal mesh would count.

The view from the brewery roof was great, out over all the red tile roofs of the town and across to the basilica, where the Michelangelo Madonna statue lives. It was the only piece of his to leave Italy during his lifetime, and though it't not large, it's impressive. It sits glowing in the huge, cold, barnlike church.

Lunch and dinner involved yet more seafood - another bucket of mussels (I think at that point we acknowledged we were trying out every preparation on the various menus) and yet more fish for dinner. Yum.

I'm not so sure that vacations are about vacationing as they are about eating food I can't get at home.


Annette said...

Loved your photos, Karen. It's on my list.

So I see Bruge is as beautiful as in the movie?

Connie said...

You are one amazing travel writer Karen. I think you missed your calling!

Deepika said...

Love the craft truck! And I wouldnt mind waking up to that either. The chocolate bra cracked me up. One of them looked like the coconut bikini I brought back from Hawaii :)

meli88a said...

The last photo cracked me up! I was in Brugges a few years ago and didn't see that offered up for sale!