Last weekend, I went to Bruges, which is a small city in northern Belgium. This city is in the Flemish (known as Flanders) rather than French part of Belgium, and is Dutch speaking. From London, you take the Eurostar to Brussels (2 hours), and then change to a local train from Brussels to Bruges (1 hour). It was here that the weekend got off to a bad start, because I left my camera, my wonderful digital SLR that allows me to take good photos for this very blog, on the train. I may have had one too many glasses of wine on the Eurostar, which temporarily affected my ability to remember to grab my camera when I departed the train at Bruges. My poor camera must have been found by an unknown person somewhere between Bruges and Oostende. In case, with the power of the internet, someone found it and reads this, then I will put a little notice just here:
Where: Train 543, between Bruges/Brugge and Oostende, Belgium
When: After 11pm, Friday 9th December 2011
What: Canon EOS 550D digital SLR camera, in a black Lowepro camera bag. The camera wil have lots of photos of tiramisu and pasta amatriciana on it!
So the sad thing about leaving my camera on the train, is that I couldn't really take any pictures to share with you here. I tried to take some on my Blackberry, but it just doesn't compare to a digital SLR.
Anyway, enough moaning about my lost camera.... Bruges was, well, touristy and busy. Many people I spoke to seem to have loved Bruges, and especially loved the pre-Christmas flood of people and 'Christmas markets'. I found it a little too much. The sheer number of people and fakeness reminded me of Ronda - a town in southern Spain where I spent Easter earlier this year. Ronda is stunning, a truly beautiful town, but it is sadly over-run with tourists, which detracts from the authenticity of the place, and makes you feel like you are walking through a Disneyland version of the town. Bruges is much the same. The architecture and canals of Bruges are breathtakingly beautiful. But the crowds of people that come to see that beauty, and the locals that feed off those tourists, make it an unappealing place for me.
After a day of wandering in the cold, battling our way through throngs of other tourists, being ripped off with a menu du jour of powdered onion soup, packet beef stew with fries and inedible jelly-wobble Spanish flan, we collapsed on the bed at our accommodation and admitted to each other that we both hated it. Okay, hate is a strong word. We had a great time climbing the belfry in the centre of the city. We had yummy hot gluhwein and chocolate-drizzled waffles to warm our fingers. And we took a scenic boat trip through the canals. So I wouldn't say we hated it, but we both came away feeling drained, exhausted and irritable.
Bruges is a city that is oval shaped, with a canal running all the way around. So that evening, we walked over the canal to the other side, hoping that we would be escaping the touristic centre. And we were right. We wandered the streets and spied a large candle outside a place, and we found the very cool Parazzar, a quirky and adorable bar. We sat down and were very happy to hear the sounds of Dutch being spoken by everyone around us; there was not a word of English. Aaaahhhh, what a relief to find a tourist-free bar in such a touristy city.
We finally started to have a good time in Bruges, ordering Spritz (Aperol, prosecco and soda) as aperitifs (which we only discovered in Rome a few weeks prior), huge plates of fresh house-made spaghetti bolognese with piles of cheese, and absolutely the best beer ever. I have no idea what the beer was that I was drinking, but it was good. Not sweet and tasteless like the lager I'm used to drinking in London - this was full of flavour, bitter, and with a good frothy head on top. Yes, Belgium has turned me into a beer connoisseur. Five beers each later, warm and happy, we paid our bill (a mere €50 - it would have been double that if we had eaten in the city).
The next day we went to the train station for a real Disneyland experience at the Snow & Ice Sculpture Festival. Here, in a -5 degree marquee, you can see all your favourite Disney characters come to life in solid ice. This was actually quite a sight. My favourite part though, was having a cup of hot Gluhwein at the ice bar, and then taking a small plastic sled and riding down the ice slide - which goes surprisingly fast. By this time, we were absolutely frozen, and left for a final beer and waffle (freshly made - the best) served with ice cream.
We took an earlier train back to Brussels and arrived at Gare du Midi with about 3 hours to spare, and no idea where to go. Gare du Midi seems to be near the African quarter of Brussels. It was nice to find myself back in French-speaking territory, which is much more familiar to me than Dutch. We wandered around and eventually found a great vintage boutique called Foxhole, where a lovely Belgian man went into great detail in a combination of English and French that we half understood, on where the cool place to go in Brussels is, if you only have 2 hours.
Belgian man directed us to the area, not far from Gare du Midi, called Saint-Gilles, where we found a most fantastic bar called Brasserie Verschueren, on the corner of Chaussee de Waterloo and Rue du Fort. Here, I tried to order in French the green bubbly-bottle of beer that everyone else seemed to be drinking. The barmaid interrupted my ridiculous attempt at French and asked in English what I would like. We shared the bottle of Moinette Blonde, a hefty 8.5% alcohol; my last taste of Belgian beer before leaving. Don't miss this bar if you are in Brussels - art deco in its absolute authentic finery - I don't think anything in this bar has changed since the 1920s. Love.
While walking around Brussels, I also came across a shop selling Barbie doll cakes. For my 9th birthday, my mama made me a Barbie doll ice cream cake, with sugared violets as decoration on the pretty dress - I have never forgotten it (ma - is there a photo of this cake?). She recently resurrected her Barbie doll cake making skills for my sister-in-law, who requested one for her birthday:
|Photo courtesy of sister-in-law|
I regret that I didn't find any tiramisu in Belgium. But we do plan on going back to Brussels for a weekend next year, after being most impressed with our 3 hours spent there, so watch this space. In the meantime, have a lovely Christmas.