Saturday, May 21, 2016

Belgium – April, 2016
Caught the train from Amsterdam to Bruges which took about 4 hours and was a lovely ride.  Cold weather and a bit rainy when I arrived so took the bus to Anna’s B&B near the beautiful St. Anne’s Church.   Checked in and set out to visit the quaint old town of Bruges.  Stopped for a rhubarb tart and coffee at a little café and then wandered my way to the Basilica of the holy blood.  This 12th century basilica is located in the Burg Square and consists of a lower and upper chapel.  The lower chapel dedicated to St. Basil the great is a dark Romanesque structure.  The venerated relic of the holy blood is in the upper chapel. 

About 6 p.m. when it started to rain I decided to have dinner early and wandered over to de bocarme.  As it was pretty early there was no one there but the restaurant was in a cellar and had a lot of atmosphere.  I ordered the three course dinner which stated with a warm goat cheese salad with julienne apples, dried cranberries and pine nuts served with a crisp brown roll.  Second course was sole with asparagus and the sole was pretty bland as it had been poached…and served with potato puree and leeks.  Dessert was a nice lemon tart.  Walked back to Anna’s and took a nice hot shower.

Took a walk along the canals in the morning and then had a wonderful breakfast and every morning thereafter, i.e. hard cooked eggs, crispy rolls, fruit, cheese, cold meats, pastries, etc.  Visited the kantcentrum lace museum where the story of lace is told.  There was a video about lace making and a lot of examples of bobbin, needle and machine lace.  Also visited the volkskunde museum which showed how life was in Belgium in the 17th century with a tobacco room, kitchen, etc.  Very well done.  Headed on down to Blackbird on Jan van Eyckplein, a cute little café facing the canal and had apple pie and coffee.  Walked into the old square and found the chocolate and lamp museums which I couldn’t resist.  Weather wasn’t really nice enough to wander around anyway…Choco Museum was well laid out on four floors and took you through the history to the present showing how chocolate evolved ending with a demonstration of how chocolate candies are made and a little sample of the delicious Belgium chocolates.  Also visited the Lamp Museum, housed in the same building, which contains the world’s largest collection of lamps and lights.  More than 6,000 antiques tell the complete story from torch and paraffin lamp to light bulb and LED.  Realllly interesting!!! 

Weather had cleared some so I walked around enjoying the old buildings and canals.  Anna had loaned me a jacket so I felt a lot warmer than I would have.  Dinner at Lieven was delicious.  A small, cute little restaurant on Philipstockstraat filled with people!!!  Dinner was salmon tartar with quinoa and shredded beets and then a chocolate brownie with pineapple and meringues.

In the morning after breakfast I wandered around the open air food market in the market square where cheeses, fruits, vegetables, flowers, breads, etc. were being sold.  Visited the Beguinage with its white-colored house fronts, tranquil convent garden and museum founded in 1245.  It was once the home of the beguines, emancipated lay women who nevertheless led a pious and celibate life.  Nowadays it is inhabited by the sisters of the order of Saint Benedict.  There is one small beguine house open to the public showing daily life in the 17th century. 

Walked to the old St. John’s Hospital which has an 800 year old history of caring for pilgrims, travelers and the sick.  The museum is now located in the old infirmary and the art objects on display are closely connected to the hospital.  There is also a 17the century apothecary near the museum which was also very interesting to visit.
Upstairs was a fascinating witches’ exhibition by Bruegel with paintings, artifacts, etc. from the 16th century when witches were burned at the stake.  Lunch was another delicious apple tart at Blackbird.  Afterwards, I stopped by the lace museum to see a demonstration of lace making on my way out of town.

I leisurely walked along the canal to Damme, a small town noted for its great restaurants and more recently as a book town with numerous bookshops and book fairs.  You can reach it by boat, bike or walking which took about 1-1/2 hours.  Visited the enormous Church of our Lady dating from about 1340, the town hall and the 15th century mansion housing the Uilenspiegelmuseum.  Tijl Uilenspiegel was a Flemish prankster originating in German folklore who played practical jokes on his contemporaries and thanks to the novel Uilenspiegel has become a symbol of Damme where he was said to have been born.  The museum was in Dutch but there were posters, books, etc. about him on all 3 floors.  Walked down to the old fortress gate and then took the bus back to Bruges. 

Dinner at Guillaume was quite nice, i.e. carpaccio with sour cream and caviar, oxtail and morel “stew” topped with fish and leeks, lamb chops with couscous and eggplant puree and warm chocolate cake/chocolate mousse and chocolate ice cream for dessert.

In the morning, I took a walk to the windmills, had a lovely breakfast and then walked to the train station where I caught the train to Ghent, a Flemish jewel of a city.  Day was rainy and cold but I persevered!!!  Walked to the historical center and visited the Belfry and cloth Hall which houses the great bells that rung out Ghent’s civic pride through the centuries.  Climbed the 225 stairs in the belfry, stopping along the way to see the bells and watch a video on how the bells are cast and made to sound as they do.  The top level had a nice panoramic view of the city and there was a drum bell that rang at 1:00 p.m. while we watched and listened.  On to the Saint Bavo Cathedral, an enormous church with beautiful stained glass windows and beautiful art.

Stopped at Café Rosario for apple pie and coffee and then walked towards Patershof, the old part of town, stopping at the House of Align, a great folklore museum set in an old almshouse founded in the 1300’s and rebuilt in the 1500’s which functioned as a children’s home and hospital.  Inside the cluster of restored cottages are replicas of typical rooms in Ghent homes at the turnoff the 20th century depicting funerals, birth and christenings, school, engagement and marriage.  Walked in the Patershol neighborhood with its cobblestone streets filled with little restaurants but pretty empty probably on account of the rain…Wandered to Vrijdagmarkt, Ghent’s main square, and along the Graslei canal side back to the station.  A Lovely city!

Dinner at Quatre Mains, small little tapas restaurant with great service and delicious food, was my favorite in Bruges!!!  I started with shrimp with Thai salad followed by rare tuna with Greek yogurt sauce and couscous and finished with a warm chocolate lava cake and ice cream – heaven!!!

In the morning I took the bus to the train station and had some coffee and a delicious chocolate croissant with nuts before boarding the train to Amsterdam.  Stayed at an airb&b on Keizersgracht on the canal which was very close to everything!!!  Left my luggage and walked down Prinsengracht to the Albert Cuypstraat market filled with food stalls selling fruit, vegetables, dried fish, Dutch specialty foods, cheeses, etc.  Had a falafel and tabbouleh salad at Bazar and a couple of pistachio baklava as well before standing in line at the Van Gogh museum for an hour!!  Well worth the wait.  The museum was fantastic taking you through his life, his fellow artists, etc. and considered to hold the world’s largest collection of his work as well as the work of some of his famous friends.

Dinner at Vinkles, a Michelin starred restaurant.  I had the chef’s tasting menu and enjoyed most of the dishes, especially the little pigeon breast, the sweetbread with artichoke and the warm brownie for dessert.  Some of the dishes were a bit “out there” for me…

Took a last walk along the canals in the morning and had a lovely breakfast overlooking the canal, i.e. warm croissant, Dutch cheeses, honey, fresh fruit and coffee.  Walked up to the train station and caught the train to the airport.  Took forever to get through security and passport control and I almost missed my flight!   Stopover in London Heathrow where there is an abundance of great places to eat.  Had lunch at EAT, i.e. a delicious egg salad sandwich on a croissant with arugula and a chocolate cookie.  Watched “Brooklyn” on the flight home and it was excellent.  What a wonderful trip!! It was also great fun to travel with someone for a change!

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