Belgium – Chocolaty and Mussel-Bound
Those of you who have seen the film In Bruges know there are two different ways to look at Bruges. You can love it or hate it and it was about time for me to find out which group I would be in. When thinking about Bruges I can’t help but think of the cliché: Chocolates, waffles, mussels, and beer. But could a place really fulfill my expectations without Willy Wonka being involved?
Before going to Bruges I spent a night in Brussels. After enjoying a huge bowl of yummy mussels at one of the thousand restaurants offering them (yes I did choose to eat them in Brussels because it rhymes) I went to the Delirium Café. With more than 2.000 different beer brands from over 60 countries, this bar made it into the Guinness Book of Records in 2004, and looking at the size of their beer menu they obviously haven’t reduced their list since. After desperate minutes of trying to decide on a beer, the competent barman put me out of my misery and into beer heaven. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like beer – neither do I – but with coconut, chocolate, or mango flavor even I can become a convinced beer fan. I was very sure this would be hard to top when falling into my bed.
The next morning I arrived at Bruges and the minutes I entered the city center, which is quite a long but lovely walk from the train station, it hit me – Chocolate! You could literally smell it in the air, only interrupted by some distinct waves of toasting waffles. It only took seconds to locate where that smell was coming from. It was from that cute little chocolate shop over there, or there, or around the corner. Even if that infinite number of shops for chocolates, pralines, and waffles might give the impression – it’s not just about the chocolate in Bruges.
There is history waiting everywhere. Every walk through the city or along the picturesque river that winds its way through the city center brings you to stunning Flemish houses from the 16th century, old cathedrals or lovely marketplaces. After a long walk through the city stocking up with pralines and beer I decided to try another Flemish tradition, rabbit. This dish was, like everything, served with fries and slowly cooked in, what else, beer. You have to be a meat fan if you are trying Flemish cuisine and although I tried to get through the huge portion, I couldn’t even finish half of my plate. Full and satisfied I couldn’t imagine how anyone couldn’t like this place. The subsequent bill did change that. 8.50€ for a bottle of water, I had clearly stepped into a tourist trap. Also, it seemed like everyone disappeared with the sunlight. Not much of nightlife if you don’t count the ice cream parlor and some small, barely visited bars. I decided to go back to my hotel and end the day early.
I woke up just to find Bruges back to where it was, chocolaty, pretty, and full of tourists enjoying the sun. After all that walking I chose to go on a boat trip to the river. This gave me the opportunity to get names and stories about what I had seen the day before. As the river crosses almost all the historic sites, the trilingual guide gave me all the background information I wished for but couldn’t be bothered to find out myself. Although the city might sometimes appear a bit cheesy the overall picture isn’t and I would recommend Bruges as a weekend destination anytime.