Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I'm a Tourist: Bruges pt. 1

I've given you the introduction:  Train ride outta the city on the IC.  I gave you some teaser photos that gave a general overview of what I did.  I've got two posts worth:  Sweets and Walking.  I was recently told I've generated a sweet tooth since arriving here.  I have always enjoyed sweets, but never in as much abundance as Belgium.  I've actually realized that its almost an economic decision:  Waffles and Chocolate is super cheap to try.  Belgium has one of the largest populations of Michelin Starred Restaurants... which I'd love to try, if they weren't over 100 Euro per shot.  Heck, if I don't eat or make any purchases at all next week, maybe I'll go to a Two Star so I don't go too far over my weekly budget.  But I've digressed, halfway through writing this post I was able to edit a sentence in the introduction, "there isn't that much to write" was changed to:  There will be TWO posts.
Bruges is a bit strange in that the train lets you off way outside the main quarters, I imagine this is because the city famously "missed out" on the industrial revolution.   I had absolutely no idea which way to go post arrival so I just followed the crowd.  Yes, there was a crowd of people getting off the train on a Sunday morning at 9am to see Bruges.  Yes this is a good indication that Bruges is pretty popular with the foreigners.  It took about fifteen minutes to make it towards the center, though I could have taken a bus there in about five... for a price.  That price being 1.20 euro, which I didn't want to spend on a three-quarter mile walk to the Central Market.  
The main attraction to Bruges is both in its lack of Industrialization as well as its title of "the Venice of Belgium".  Which is an overly specific way of saying, "there are canals here."  Most of the time the canals are on the outer edge of the main town, but they do break in every now and then.  One could almost consider the canals being polite as to not bother the rest of the infrastructure.  There are boat tours, but I'm pretty sure that is the only function on the canal.  There seemed to be no private access at all save for a back yard fronting the canal itself.  I didn't see any cafes with patios facing the canal.  My photos may have represented them in a better light had it been summer, but I also believe there are well over one billion photos of the canals online.  People also enjoy the city as a relic of older times, everyone except the people living there.  I can imagine it is like trying to live a normal life as a resident of an apartment above the Marrakesh portion of Epcot Center in Disney World. Also, you work in Finance and on your way to the office you have to stop into the Future World for your cup of coffee and Newspaper.
I read up on Bruges in a very cursory way and decided I wanted to do two specific things and two generic things and leave the rest of the day to chance.  I wanted to go to the Belgian Chocolate museum and Belgian Frites museum.  I also wanted to consume some Belgian chocolate and look at some lace (this is not a euphemism, they are well known for lace).  Chocolate and lace are supposed to be very popular and high quality in Bruges in general.  The common problem seems to be the tourist trap versions.  I didn't really know how to avoid the tourist traps so I went into a self proclaimed tourist trap, "the most popular hot chocolate in Bruges," for my chocolate fix.  I produced a photo yesterday of the completed cup of hot chocolate, so today I wanted to give the origin.  For 3.50 Euro I got a hot chocolate a tray of Belgian chocolates and a dish of whipped cream.  The hot chocolate is really just a mug of steamed milk and a dish of melted chocolate.  You are meant to dump and stir.  There was sugar on the saucer... for those who don't find chocolate sweet enough.  The whole process was interesting, but seems like a disappointing waste of dish chocolate.  If you look closely enough at the completed image, you can see my attempts at removing the last morsels of chocolate from the dish without licking the dish directly.
I have to be honest and review the hot chocolate in regards to similar versions I've had in the past.  #1: City Bakery hot chocolate-  I think the belgian was a little better, I had a very strong flavor of the chocolate but the City Bakery hot chocolate looks better while drinking.  One reason I imagine the Bruges shop serves this way is to make it look delicious to start.  Once you pour and stir the melted chocolate it isn't the most attractive mug.  There are bits swimming about and such.  #2:  Starbucks Chantico-  believe it or not three or four years ago Starbucks served Chantico, a very heavy drinking chocolate.  I used to imagine the espresso sized portion as a warm liquid brownie, but I'd give the Belgian drink the tip again because of its texture.  I'm not sure they used whole milk alone as it tasted a little thin.  But I actually enjoyed the viscosity of the drink in contrast to the strong chocolate flavor.  I think with the Chantico you get overwhelmed with the density of the drink itself before you can appreciate the flavor.  Also the Chantico was too sweet... but oh well.
Enough on chocolate, BRING ON THE WAFFLES!  I only ate one, don't worry.  I don't have much to say about the waffle except the vendor was kind enough to mention the waffles are different here.  I mentioned that I did not want my waffle dipped in chocolate and he replied, "well, you know they come with powdered sugar on them."  This is already a sweet pastry with sugar syrup heated onto of it... now covered in powdered sugar.  I'm not sure how they do things in Flanders, but I like my waffles here in Brussels thank you very much.  He also served it with a fork.  I won't go much further, I don't want to get too frustrated with this new waffle experience.  But I did want to share this photo I took of a waffle store.  I'm also curious why there is a Chocolate and Frites museum but no waffle museum.  We actually call them Belgian Waffles.  Maybe someone else invented waffles and they're frustrated with France for stealing Frites so they don't want to steal the thunder from someone for waffles.  New rumour:  Belgian Waffles are actually from Luxembourg, you heard it here first.


  1. Woah! Let me get this straight.You had liquid chocolate, with a side of solid chocolate, and is that MORE chocolate in that colorful wrapper or is that the sugar?

    Sounds like Bruges is comparable to Rothenburg, Germany the neverending Christmas wonderland.

  2. As LaurEM said, Bruges does seem to be another one of these kind of non-industrialized, well-preserved, self-referential European towns from the Middle Ages. I feel like these towns, which end up being quintessential embodiments of their respective region's culture, are a little bit overwhelming, but none-the-less awesome. I had a great time visiting Rothenberg, but couldn’t spend more than a day or two there. You mention the people living there, and how for them it must be like living in Disney world. Do you think there are any people living the historic city center that have nothing to do with the tourism industry? If so, what do you think they do? I’ve often wondered this about these little cities in Europe, especially all the little hill towns of Italy. Also, it’s weird to think that these places were probably like this before there was Disney world…

  3. Marrakesh... ha nice one. Next speciality stop the super heated phosphates store.
    I liked this post and the level of sass.