Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Brugge - A Rainy Spring Break, part 1

We had never made the short leap across the channel to see Belgium, so we decided to give it a whirl for the final long weekend of spring break.  It was the younger daughter's first experience on the Eurostar and she decided it's no grander than the local commuter train that hauls us into London.  I found a good deal on the Eurostar website a couple months ago and we were booked into two very spacious connecting rooms at the Crown Plaza.  Seriously - the only way we could have been closer to Burg Square was to pitch a tent right outside the revolving door of our hotel and camp there on the cobbled walkway in the shadow of the building below.

Eurostar dropped us in Brussels, where we caught an Inner City train for an hour long ride to Brugge.  The pics above show some of the rare blue skies we saw on this trip.  I guess we should just be glad we had a bit of nice touring weather that first afternoon.  

On our way to the frites (french fry) stand below that Rick Steves recommended...

my husband pointed out a group of retirement age folks on the street between Burg and Markt Squares wearing LU Cardinal baseball caps.  It just so happens that I graduated from Lamar University.  The teen told me I should say something to them and since I seem to be morphing into my chatty granny Doris in my old age, I did just that.  

It turns out that this group of LU alums were on a river cruise and touring Brugge for the day.  What a hoot - our family running into a bunch of LU folks from Southeast Texas on an historic square in Belgium.  As luck would have it, the LU president and his wife were in attendance and came over to introduce themselves.  I recalled enough from my LU days to remember that the president was a musician.  When I mentioned the name of my high school band director, the president's mouth formed an "O" and he told me that he was HER high school band director.  Yet more proof that it is, indeed, a small world.

Here are the husband and teen getting ready to enjoy their frites, hers with ketchup and his with mayo.  After all three of them hoovered up a basket full of fried taters, we headed over to the chocolate shop Rick Steves recommended.  I swear, y'all, we need to have an altar to this man in the house because he is our travel god.  And after using quite a few of his travel guides, I'm a convert.  The man sometimes hits the lower end, bargain basement, no frills sort of establishments, but has never steered me wrong in terms of what to see (in order of importance, because who can really see every little thing anyway), where to stay and which restaurants to frequent.

Mmm, chocolate!

See that marzipan strawberry?  It was delicious!  The kind young woman behind the chocolate counter with a fabulous command of the English language happily pointed out EVERY SINGLE sort of chocolate so the girls could give it a yea or nay.  Since I'm not a big hazelnut fan, it seemed as if every other piece involved some sort of hazelnut filling or flavoring.  Once I had a couple pieces, the little hogzillas snuffled up everything else.  The husband did get several pieces, but only after the girls had a nibble and deemed it unfit for their consumption.  Half-eaten chocolates with bite marks... so appetizing.

The husband and I ended our first day at De Vlaamsche Pot (The Flemish Pot) without the children in tow... the advantages of having kids age 16 and 11.  You guessed it - good ol' Rick Steves recommended it and it was a quaint little place for a reasonable meal.  We toasted a night out sans the little tax deductions with a glass of sweet German wine while the husband opted for a Chimay, one of the famous Trappist beers brewed in Belgium by the Trappist monks.  

I started with a goat cheese and honey salad while the husband had shrimp croquettes.  His main was a huge pot of mussels in white wine while I dined on a really unique dish of endive wrapped in bacon then topped with a thin layer of rough mashed potatoes, a white cream sauce with fresh black pepper and cheese, all baked in a mini cast iron skillet.  It didn't sound that heavy a meal when I ordered it.  I ate roughly a third and was about to explode carbs all over the place because it was so incredibly rich.  After waddling back to our hotel, we took the youngest daughter up to the 8th floor to enjoy a dip in the indoor pool.  

The following day brought intermittent rain, but that didn't slow us down.  We hoofed it south from the medieval city square to walk along the canals...

on our way to the De Halve Maan Brewery for a tour.  This is the view we had when we walked out onto the roof of the brewery, a rare blue sky peeking through the rain clouds that scuttled across the sky all day.

At the end of the tour, we all got a sample of the finished product.  

That tall, skinny glass of darker liquid is the Coke our youngest ordered in place of the beer.  I got a glass of the beer and promptly turned it over to the hubby since he's a connoisseur whereas I never developed a taste for it.  Since the drinking age on the continent is 16, the teen got her own glass of beer.  In the spirit of things, she took a sip or two, announced that it tasted like stale saltine crackers and gave her glass to her daddy.  Needless to say, the husband got a healthy sampling of the wares and left the place with a case of beer breath for our afternoon touring.

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