As we made our way from Amsterdam to Brugge, we changed trains in Antwerp. When we popped out of the train we were in the middle of this architectural wonder. Just another reason I love rail travel…
Monthly Archives: October 2012
My word – it feels like forever ago that I promised this post. I am choosing to blame the real world for my delinquency. When I returned to the real world last week it had all of this ‘stuff’ waiting for me. Isn’t that the worst part of returning from vacation? It is for me… especially this vacation because it means I’m required to do more than drink beer and eat chocolate (and read Game of Thrones).
Those that know me know I am NOT a beer girl. I never have been and I never thought I would be. Then I went to Belgium and had a lambic. If I had only known that lambics were the candy of beer (and pink!), I would have started consuming them years ago. And the best part of Belgium is that they have lambics on every menu (along with other beers of course).
The first place we went for beers in Brugge was a fabulous pub (recommended by the Scotts) – Cambrinus. The menu had 49 lambic options and the lambic section was the smallest. If you have never had a lambic, it has heavy fruit undertones and cherry seems to be the most popular fruit. Danimal was in beer heaven here – over 400 options – not to mention that it has the infamous Westvleteren 12 (aka the ‘Westy 12’). Apparently Westy 12 is widely regarded as the “best beer in the world”. It is pricey, but worth it because of the taste and the fact that it is nearly impossible to find.
Located just south of Market Square, Danimal and I made a visit to De Halve Maan Brewery. This brewery has been in the family for four generations and in the same location. We have never been on a vacation where we didn’t visit at least one winery or brewery, and this one was definitely worth it. Andrew was a phenomenal tour guide and after the hour-long tour you are rewarded with a beer. Danimal deemed the winning beers from this brewery their Tripel and the Straffe Hendrick Quad. (ATL folks… you can find the quad at Green’s.)
Our final night in Brugge we headed over to the ‘oldest pub in Brugge’ – Herberg Vlissinghe. It may have been because I was immersed in Game of Thrones during this trip, but I felt like I walked into a pub in Winterfell. It is more removed location-wise than other places we had been and felt like we were in on a little secret. It isn’t big so make sure you go early to get a seat or just be fine waiting for a moment.
I would like to say I have had a beer since I’ve been back, but I haven’t. It is only a matter of time though, my Aggies are playing LSU this weekend and I feel like it will be needed.
Since Brugge is a fantastic specimen of medieval architecture, this also means incredible churches and artwork. My fascination with the relationship between the church, art and the middle ages began when I lived in Italy. I had an incredible Italian Art History professor that made it come alive. Because patrons of the church were church officials and/or from the most prominent families, a large number of paintings from this period are found in churches as large frescoes and sculptures. (This also means you have portraits of prominent families being oddly featured as part of religious scenes.) So without further delay, some of the most fascinating churches in Brugge…
Church of Our Lady
This church has one of the only Michaelangelo sculptures to have left Italy during his lifetime. The sculpture is the big draw, but my favorite part was the above ground tombs in the chancel. Also, talk about medieval folks thinking that money bought holiness- the neighbor of this church had a bridge built over the church with a private chapel overlooking the altar so his family didn’t have to mix with the commoners. So fabulously medieval (and ridiculous)…
Basilica of the Holy Blood
This chapel contains a phial that reputedly contains Christ’s blood brought back from the Crusades.You can’t take pictures inside this church, so you will have to settle for outside shots only. But, when we were inside we got to see the blood phial placed atop a bright red pillow by the priest inside a gilded box.
St. Savior’s Cathedral
This one is the oldest parish church in Brugge and was my favorite (perhaps because it was the first one we went in). I loved that you could see the painstaking restoration that was very much in progress. Did I miss my calling? Maybe I was meant to sit on scaffolding for years recreating one painted halo.
Because I couldn’t read the signs, I could never figure out the name of this church. But when Danimal and I walked in we were shocked to see this incredibly modern neon art display alongside the traditional art and architecture of the church. I think it captured so much of what the church struggles with today as it tries to share its message in a changing society.
I wish I had more pictures of this church. It is rumored to be very different and based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This church is also attached to the Lace Museum. Unfortunately, we easily found our way to the Lace Museum, but never found the way into the church. Unless you are over the moon obsessed with lace, I think you will probably agree that this is the worst museum in the history of museums. I don’t remember the last time I was that bored.
Yes, I realize I just did an entire post about old churches and art… my nerd flag is waving proudly right now. Poor Danimal finally requested that we not go in anymore old churches unless they were really cool. I plan to redeem myself tomorrow with a post about beer.
After much debate, I am honored to present Brugge with the prestigious award of “Cutest Town in the World”. Myself, Danimal, our travel agent, Paul Henry, and the Scotts made up this elite judging panel. I know you don’t know all of them, but you can trust them – most of the time. The town has the majority of its medieval architecture still intact and that is what draws you in the moment you arrive.
Brugge radiates from two large squares – the Market and Brug. From an urban design perspective, I love the activity around the squares. Unfortunately, these are also the most touristy parts of the City. Once you go and experience the squares, be sure to move along to other side streets and canals to find the better restaurants and better prices.
Other parts of the town are touristy as well, but when touristy translates to chocolate shop after chocolate shop and pub after pub… I’m more than okay with that. We tried many of the chocolate shops throughout Brugge and we both agree that Chocolaterie Sukerbuyc is the best. The chocolate was the smoothest, had the best fillings and the most variety.
If you are able to tear yourself away from beer and chocolate long enough, there are incredible museums worth a visit. My personal favorite was the Picasso Expo and not just because I love art. More than any Picasso exhibit I’ve seen before, this one focused on the relationship he had with other artists, such as Miro and Matisse, and how they influenced each other.
If I begin to talk about the beer and churches now, this post would go on forever. So I will stop myself her because I may or may not need another beer.
[Author’s Note: PLEASE let The White Queen on BBC be the next Downton Abbey – if for no other reason than we can say it was filming in Brugge while we were here.]
Cheese. I mean, what isn’t better with cheese (especially goat cheese)? I know I swore I was done with tests and school once I passed my LARE exam a couple of weeks back, but hopefully we can all agree that Cheese School deserves an exception. On our final morning in Amsterdam, Danimal and I went to Reypenaer Cheese to
eat cheese learn.
Reypenaer Cheese has been in business for three generations- over 100 years. Basically, they know cheese. Our instructor was the fabulous Chrissie. Some of the more interesting factoids from Chrissie:
- In the older cheese warehouse is 100 years old which is important for the flavoring. The cheese wheels within the warehouse must be turned twice a week and weigh 15 kilos. (I potentially have a new plan for getting better triceps cheese wheel flipping.)
- The new warehouse holds over 120,000 cheese wheels. My only thought there is that is a lot of cheese.
- There is a micro-climate in the cheese warehouse that includes opening and closing of shutters to ensure the appropriate taste for the cheese.
- Reypenaer invented their own cheese guillotine.
I’m not doing Chrissie’s explanation justice, but she gave me a whole new appreciation for cheese.
Now time for the hard part- cheese tasting. This was feaux-hard because let’s be honest… eating cheese is great – grading cheese is difficult. We tasted six different cheeses and they were paired with white, red and port wines. Another important cheese fact… cut that stuff thin, then it can better melt in your mouth. (It melts even faster with wine added…) My favorite cheese of the day was the Wyngaard Chevre. No surprise there since goat is my number one cheese, but I also loved the Reypenaer XO Reserve. It was smooth, but had remarkable sharpness to the flavor. Good news for everyone… you can order online.
At one point in time I may have gotten a bit overwhelmed about how awesome cheese school was.
Me (possibly too excited, spoken very quickly and hopefully quietly): All this cheese and wine might be making me drunk. I love this cheese… what do you think it smells* like?!?!
Danimal (calmly): cheese
* Part of our assignment was to say what the cheese smelled like other than cheese.
Now here is why you should never mess with the cheese or travel gods and instead blindly follow them. The girl sitting behind us in cheese school looked very familiar. At the end of class she mentioned the same. After exchanging where we were from, we realized that we met last summer when Colin and I were on our amazing speaking expedition that took us through Dubai. The world is flat, y’all. I encourage you to get and out go places so you can reunite with amazing people over things as fabulous as cheese.
Brace yourselves, we are now in Brugge which is a thousand kinds of amazing. Details to follow…
Yesterday Danimal and I headed out to the countryside to see how the Dutch do things old school. We took a twenty-minute train ride from Amsterdam’s Central Station to the quaint town of Koog-Zaandijk.
In my opinion this is a town divided by a bridge. The tourist side of the bridge, which really exists for the sole purpose of showing visitors the heritage of the Netherlands, complete with kitschy gift shops where you can buy ceramic replicas of wooden shoes in every color possible. For as touristy as it was, I loved seeing the old windmills and the animals, plus it is nice to get a taste of the countryside.
The other side of the bridge is where people actually live. The coziness of the homes and their spacing reminded me of all of the things I enjoy about Carmel, California. Danimal and I had some cocktails at a boutique hotel, D’vijf Broers, on the water before heading back. We give the atmosphere, service and cocktails two thumbs up. All in all, this was a good little side excursion.
[On an unrelated note: Have you hugged your travel agent today? Danimal and I used a travel agent for the first time ever on this trip. When we returned from the countryside yesterday we had an email from him saying we needed to Skype him because there was going to be a rail strike in Belgium. If it had not been for Paul, we would have had no idea and headed to the train station tomorrow expecting to go somewhere. He had us new train tickets and adjusted our hotel reservations in warp speed. In an industry that has changed dramatically thanks to Al Gore inventing the World Wide Web, we give Paul Henry major props and highly recommend his travel planning services. Thanks for saving us, Paul!]
If I was asked to describe Amsterdam in one word, I would effortlessly say, “charming”. Y’all, this place is absolutely adorable. We arrived to the hotel around 6:00am and immediately began exploring. Given the hour we were some of the few out in the streets… what a treat to see the City before it awoke.
We spent the majority of our first day just walking the streets. The architecture and the scale combined with the canals (I mean… over 1200 bridges here, folks) allow you to disappear into your surroundings… you really could just wander for days.
In addition to the canals are the quaint side alleys. I limited myself to 85 pictures of side alleys. Danimal insists that the number of pictures I’m taking makes us look more like tourists than his Braves hat would have.
Fun Fact (aka Nerd Fact) of the Day: Even with new construction the buildings here rely on exterior pulley systems to move furniture into upper levels because of the narrow staircases. We will definitely be needing this when we move into the place I’ve picked out for us in Amsterdam. (A girl can dream…)
I’m confident tomorrow will be ‘charming’ as well when we head to the countryside.