Penne Cole's thoughts on food, travel and more
Panting slightly, I flatten myself against the wall, trying to make enough room for the person heading down to pass. I am in the narrow stairway of the Belfried or belfry in Bruges. The staircase spirals upwards for 366 steps, with helpful markers every so often, showing how much torture you have ahead of you. The stairwell becomes narrower as I climb, until right at the end, I feel like I am popping through the narrow neck of a wine bottle. But the view that sprawls before my eyes makes the climb worth it.
Bruges is laid out before me, a patchwork of red, grey, and burnt-orange roofs, interspersed with canals and leafy green trees. It is a grey, drizzly day. The occasional strong gust of wind peppers me with fine drops of rain. But I am loving it here, on top of Bruges, with the noon bells pealing loudly in my ears.
All too soon, the cold wind chases me back down the tower. Shivering, we head into the one of the first restaurants we see, intent on only one thing: Belgium’s famous mussels and fries.
The Belgians are by no means stingy when it comes to their mussels. We are served an enormous pot of mussels that must have weighed at least a kilogram, with an equally large portion of fries. Recalling the tip from a Belgian restaurant in Sydney, I save the shell of my first mussel, using them as a pair of tweezers to pinch the meat out of the other mussels. Yes, eat with your hands – there’s no need to be ladylike when savouring a Belgian mussel pot! The mussels are delicious and perfectly cooked, but the fries are hard and a little disappointing, nothing like the perfect fries that we had at Jozef’s frietkoten in Ghent the day before.
It is bucketing down when we finish our lunch, but feeling restless, we dash into the Basilica of the Holy Blood next door. The Basilica’s star possession is a vial of blood that is said to belong to Jesus. By chance, we have timed our visit perfectly as the daily viewing of the vial has just begun. We obediently join the queue, patiently waiting our turn to pay our respects. As I step up to the dais, dropping my offering into the box, I am confronted with a surprisingly large vial. It is encased in clear rock crystal, but both ends are heavily decorated with gold. I half expect to see liquid blood, but it is dried, with a slightly pink hue.
Leaving the Basilica, we decide to take shelter in the Old Chocolate House, which is said to have the best hot chocolate in town. We do a double take when we first see the massive cup of hot chocolate on the table. The mug is bigger than my face; lose the handle and it would have served just fine as a bowl. The bowl is filled with hot milk, and patrons can choose either milk or dark chocolate buttons. The buttons come in a chocolate cup, and the whole affair is dropped into the mug and whisked with a small balloon whisk. It is the perfect beverage for this cold and rainy day. Because we are in Belgium, we also order a strawberry waffle, which comes with a generous dollop of whipped cream on the side. The waffle is delicious; crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. The service is less so, with the grouchy waiter threatening to charge us an additional Euro for an extra pair of eating utensils.
The rain has stopped by the time we venture outside again. We stroll around town, admiring the architecture. Compared to Ghent, Bruges is much more touristy, but perhaps just a tad more charming. The architecture reminds me of gingerbread and dolls houses, making me feel like I am wandering around in a fairytale town.
Our last stop for the day is, of course, a chocolate shop. Jim Ferri of NeverStopTravelling.com assures me that Dumon makes the best chocolate in town. Not having enough time to sample the hundreds of chocolate shops in town, we take him at his word, and head straight there. There are two Dumons in town. The one we go to on Eiermarkt is still family-owned and run. More than once, the lady behind the counter tells me proudly that her brother makes all the chocolate by hand. She also tells me, rather sharply, to look, not touch, as the chocolates are fragile and may be broken with too much handling. Compared to the other chocolate shops in Ghent that I poked my head into, the prices here are significantly (up to half) cheaper, at only 24 Euros a kilo. I am tempted to get more, but I settle for a 250g box. The lady assures me that the chocolates will last for about three months and are best kept at room temperature and not in the fridge.
By 7pm, we are ready to leave for our rented apartment in Ghent, half an hour’s drive away. Bruges is a beautiful, fairytale town, and may be a tad prettier than Ghent, but on balance, I prefer Ghent, without the hordes of tourists (me included, I know!) that flock Bruges’ streets.
Related post: Cheap eats and foodie finds in Ghent, Belgium
Best chocolateDumon Artisanale Chocolatier Eiermarkt 6
Best hot chocolateThe Old Chocolate House 1c Mariastraat
Best tip for drivers
Park in the Centrum Station. It’s just at the edge of town, about fifteen minutes’ walk from the belfry.
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