Wintertime in Gent.
Wintertime in Gent.
How many of you have looked up what Bezoekers means? Well, if you are that
uninterested lazy, I’ll tell you anyway. It’s Dutch for visitors, but SO much more fun to say, am I right?! Moving on, our fearsome foursome (J+J and M&M) took a road trip around Belgium. I have realized that there are certain people you can travel with and certain people you can’t. Fortunately, M&M depict the former. They were some of the best travel companions we could ask for since they were just as fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants and go-where-the-wind-blows-us as myself and Jaro. Basically, it was a blast. We made for a good team!
The first stop was Antwerp. I have heard good things and I guess I need to follow up about those “good things” because compared to some of our other travel, it was a bore. Lots of generic shopping and the train station, while beautiful, was the #1 Thing To Do on tripadvisor. So, here we are, marveling at the #1 attraction in Antwerp:
Don’t we look awe-struck?
Anywho, after strolling through town, we did have a really great lunch at a restaurant called De Foyer (http://www.bourlaschouwburg.be/), situated in a historic old art museum. While the service was terrible, the interior was lovely and the food was good. Here is the really casual room we ate in:
After an afternoon wandering around Antwerp (which, if you aren’t doing any museums, is plenty), we piled back in the car and headed to Bruges. Picture the small town from Beauty and the Beast where Belle is from (you all know it), and that’s Bruges. Charming, quaint, even spell-binding, we were all in love. The men too! Twisty little canals and well-preserved medieval buildings create the peaceful scene. The first night, we enjoyed local beers at a still-open Christmas market (These Euros keep celebrating after the holiday, unlike
consumeristic/gift-focused average Americans) and wandered around the city looking for food. We finally settled upon a place in the main square (as authentic travelers, we usually avoid tourist traps), and agreed to split a mussel pot as an appetizer. De Vier Winden (no website…tellingly) was, in a word, bad. Why? Well, to start with, we were lured in by the obnoxious host (telling us their mussels were better and cheaper than the rest in the square- a lie) and then treated rather rudely. Example A: The waiter even removed M’s cloth napkin from her lap to replace with a paper one! Pulled it off her lap! We all joked about it, but honestly, what terrible service. #neveragain Traveler Tip: Don’t fall for those main square gimmicks! Head off the square for a more local, more genuine meal.
Cue let’s-turn-this-night-around bar selection: ‘T Brugs Beertje (http://www.brugsbeertje.be/index_en.htm), aka: The Bruges Bear, aka: Some of the most honest fun you’ll have in awhile. It’s a little
hole in the wall cozy pub on a tiny, dark street in Bruges and was the saving grace that night. After 10 too many rounds of Avec les bons voeux (9.5% alcohol, hello!), we stumbled to a “nightshop” where I bought a kilo of fries as a late night snack. While you may stuff a burrito or white castle burgers down the throat to coat the bowels, I made it my business (and I was serious) to shove 2.2 pounds of fries (with mayo of course) in my belly. Hey, for all the exercise I do now, I’m not ashamed to admit it. In fact, here is photographic evidence:
Guess how I felt the next day?
By the time we woke up the next morning (Tuesday), we were all starving and needed to find breakfast. Immediately. We got two recommendations from our hotel and headed out. Both. Were. Closed. <Insert hangry commentary here> (For those of you that don’t know, “Hangry” is the official term for being so hungry, you’re angry.) So, we stomped into an Italian sandwich shop for soggy Belgian waffles. I’m still cringing as I type that. Traveler Tip: Going to Bruges in “slow season” is one thing (cheaper hotel rooms, exploring without other tourists stepping on our feet), but going on a Tuesday is actually not a good idea. Much of the city is closed. And that goes for summer too!
Despite the constant downpour of rain, we walked all over the city and even did two tours that day: The Chocolate Museum (http://www.choco-story.be/ENG/) (Traveler Tip: DON’T GO. Unless you like to read about ancient Mayans #yawn, not really learn how chocolate is made, or have a penchant for dioramas made with legos) and the Half Moon Brewery Tour (http://www.halvemaan.be/). THIS was worth a visit! Really cool family-run brewery in Bruges, with a decent tour and, of course, a free beer at the end. There really is nothing like Belgian beer.
After some more beers at ‘t Brugs Beertje, we came across the Christmas market again and it was completely deserted. However, some sweet jams were playing at the bumper cars so we walked up and thought – Hm, wouldn’t it be so great if someone was here to turn this on so we could all play with the bumper cars? Sure enough:
That’s right. We convinced the kid to turn it on so we could go for a spin. #winning
We all agreed we needed to step it up for dinner that night after having such a fun day. And boy, did we deliver. Got another recommendation from our hotel (crossing our fingers that it’d be open this time) and BINGO! it was. We walked into Poules Moules (http://www.poulesmoules.be/) and knew we were going to have a good time. Good drinks, great mussels and service, overall we had a blast. Even if we were the only ones in there (hey, it’s still slow season after all). Here is a picture of our delicious goat cheese appetizer:
Unfortunately, I was in too much of a hunger panic to take pictures of the mussels before they were completely gone. Oops! They were good though.
The next morning, we woke up with renewed
energy excitement to try the breakfast places we had been recommended. The first one was packed as we walked into it (not hard when there were only 5 tables) and it didn’t look like anyone was moving. So, we headed to spot #2, Le Pain Quotidien (http://www.lepainquotidien.be/) and couldn’t have been more disappointed. 1) They were out of coffee 2) Portions were leprechaun-sized 4) Service could not have been ruder (Or more rude? Whatever.) and 3) Jaro’s was the most expensive (a bread basket) which we all accidentally shared so he didn’t really have much of anything. Hah! Again, we laughed it off, but come on now.
Time to pile into the car again and head to Gent for lunch. We had read a review of this place in the heart of the city, Groot Vleeshuis (http://www.grootvleeshuis.be/nl/), so decided to try it out. Other than the fact that it was in a old building, it was so awkward. From the fish tank restaurant (literally you are in a glass-enclosed container inside the building) to the mediocre food, we were not impressed. Here it is:
At least we got to walk around Gent! Such a pretty city, filled with medieval architecture. Would like to go back.
Onto our final destination (no, not the kind that kills you): Brussels. I had been here once before (Thanks to a 12 hour layover a few years ago), but was excited to have more time to explore this city. We arrived in the early evening and since we were only staying one night, we got right to the exploration. Heading into the Grand Place square, we found our dinner spot, ‘t Kelderke (http://www.restaurant-het-kelderke.be/en/welcome/). Surprisingly (as you all know by now, I try to avoid tourist traps in the middle of popular squares), this choice was excellent. Just the fussy French bistro we were looking for. Appropriately stand-offish without being rude, it was perfect. And not touristy whatsoever. We enjoyed frog legs (well, Meg didn’t), croquettes, and, of course, a big steaming pot of mussels. Mussels in Brussels! So delicious and fun. Add beer to that and we had a pretty excellent evening. I remembered to take a picture of the food this time (however blurry):
The next morning, we awoke to another rainy day in Belgium. Like I don’t get enough of it in the Netherlands. But, we were determined to get out and see as much of the sights as possible. We took the Rick Steve’s self-guided tour and learned a bit about some of the history around Brussels. We had fun. Look at us having fun:
Can you tell Jaro was the photographer this trip? Poor guy, here is a picture of him:
Haha. I’m sure he’ll be happy about this one being shared. Especially because he’s in front of Brussels famous baby – Mannekin Pis! Love you, darling.
Our last stop of the trip was the most decadent – Pierre Marcolini Chocolatiers (http://www.marcolini.be/#/en). Basically, it’s like the Chanel of chocolate shops. So luxurious and … expensive. But totally worth it! We picked up some incredible macaroons and chocolate gifts. Score.
Overall, we had a great time with some great friends. Truly, it was the company that made it so wonderful. We’re already missing our Bezoekers M&M so hard.