Our week-long European road trip got off on the wrong foot after being delayed at the airport in Dublin and delayed at the Port of Dover while trying to board the ferry to Calais, France. Port security informed us that we had to get out of line because the rental car company had called and told them that we weren’t cleared to take the rental car out of the United Kingdom. We finally got it sorted out, but 2 hours and 2 ferries had passed in that time. Despite the hassle at the border, we were finally on our way to Belgium and we hoped that our traveling mishaps were behind us.
The boat arrived in Calais and we were off, driving on the right side of the car on the right side of the road. By the time we neared Brugge, it was almost 11pm. Some road work on the outskirts of town (that our SAT-NAV didn’t pick up) lead us wandering through the suburbs, but we eventually arrived at our hotel, Die Swaene, at 11:30 that night. We were tired and hungry from the journey that started in Dublin much earlier that morning, and decided to splurge for room service to reward ourselves for actually making it to Brugge despite the obstacles. Our innkeeper informed us that unfortunately there was no room service since the restaurant was across the street and being it so late at night, it was closed. He offered leftovers from their breakfast buffet and few minutes later, he arrived arms full of small plates of salami, ham, chicken, cheese, fruit and bread. He apologized for the slim selection and warned us multiple times that the bread was from that morning (they take their bread very seriously in Europe). David and I were thankful for their gracious hospitality and happy that we weren’t going to bed with empty stomachs. Valentine’s Day was the following day and we thrilled that we were staying at “the most romantic hotel” in Brugge. When we walked into our room, we laughed out loud as we looked down at two twin beds.
We awoke the next morning to a gorgeous day with an even prettier view overlooking the canal and the gorgeous medieval buildings of Brugge. The inside of the hotel really was the most beautiful place I had ever seen, so old and elegant that it was hard to imagine that I wasn’t on a movie set. The Die Swaene’s breakfast spread was something sent down from heaven: pastries, muffins, croissants, toast, honey, jam, bacon, eggs, salami, ham, chicken, munster, cheddar, Roquefort blue cheese, smoked salmon with red onion & cucumbers, marinated cucumbers & red peppers, assorted dried fruits and sautéed marinated pineapple, just to name a few things on the table. Who wouldn’t be in paradise?
David and I set out to explore the city, trying to take in every piece of this pristine kept medieval city. We stumbled upon one of the only Michelangelo’s outside of Italy at Our Lady’s Church, which was just a short walk from the hotel (actually everything in Brugge is a short walk from each other). In Belgium, I was on a mission for chocolate, beer and frites, not necessarily in that order, and it didn’t take long to accomplish my to-do list. Being Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t have picked a better time to be in the chocolate mecca and David knew better than to utter the words, “Don’t you think that’s enough Jen?” I loaded up on chocolates from a few different stores to make sure my Belgian chocolate taste test was thorough. The beer portion followed shortly afterwards when we walked into Bierbrasserie Cambrinus where you can sample over 400 varieties of local beer. Half of the bar was taken up with the beer specific glassware and we admired how serious the Belgian’s took their beer. A beer menu (which looked more like a bible) was set in front of us, that could have taken hours to read, but we came in with a few beers in mind that we wanted to taste. The Belgium style of beer is my favorite and I quickly got into trouble after I had a few beers, both with a higher alcohol percentage than I was use to. Without intending to, I got
drunk pissed before our lunch reservation. One of the benefits of my pre-lunch debauchery was that I picked up met this older English couple at the bar who was visiting from Liverpool, England. We enjoyed a beer with them, shared stories and exchanged numbers.
We dined at Den Dyver and for the first time, David and I had beer paired with our 4 course lunch menu. The food was top quality with an emphasis on local ingredients and we were pleasantly surprised with how perfectly paired the beers were. We stumbled out of the restaurant and I poked my head into some of the famous lace shops before falling asleep at the hotel for three hours hoping to sober up before dinner.
David and I are certainly not ones for the cliché Valentine’s Day dinners, but after David bought me pounds of chocolate, we figured we were already headed in that direction anyways (when in Brugge right?). David and I put on our fancy clothes for our night out to Patrick Devos. The restaurant is in a historic late-Gothic house that dates back to the 1300′s. The menu was a pre-fixed Valentine’s menu with paired wine. The food was great, but not better than lunch, nor one of the top meals we have had recently (which is saying a lot since it was excellent food). The service was very attentive, but very formal (not really my thing). During dinner, one of things that stood out to me was how they incorporated buttermilk into each course (weird, I know) whether it was foam or gelée, appetizer or dessert, the buttermilk component had a pronounced flavor that seemed to compliment whatever it was with. It was a unique and wonderful touch. The walk home after dinner was serene and blissful. Our reservation was earlier than the usual European dinner reservation, so the streets were quite and we peered into the restaurants we passed, watching happy couples enjoying their evening.
The next morning I hit my favorite breakfast buffet fairly hard again, tears almost in my eyes knowing that I may never again see a spread of this caliber. We ventured off to De Biertempel which means The Beer Temple, (obviously my Dutch has improved drastically since Amsterdam) which is regarded as the best beer store in town. The Biertempel is home to, you guessed it, hundreds of beers, mostly Belgian, and some very rare. A colleague of David’s who is a beer connoisseur, tipped us off so David and I arrived at the beer store on a mission: leave with as much Westvleteren beer as possible. Westvlteren is made by the Trappist Monks, and on top of being incredibly rare, it’s regarded as one of the best beers on the planet.
Two large boxes of beer in hand, we struggled to leave the store. Thankfully there was a local farmer’s market that caught my eye and distracted me. Farmer’s markets are one of my favorite things to visit when traveling because you get a glimpse of the true local culture, as well as viewing beautiful produce, meats, cheese, and gifts. Usually the smells wafting through the air thanks to the food venders are something we can rarely turn down. Luckily we only had a few euros left and we weren’t able to do as much damage there as I had anticipated. We had just enough money to buy a few pears and oranges to sustain us on our drive to Luxembourg. Ironically, we ran into our English friends at the market and relived our festivities from the day and night before. I would return back to Brugge in a heartbeat, even tomorrow if I could. Although we saw, ate and accomplished a lot in 36 hours, I feel like I just began to scratch the surface of Brugge. And the road trip continued on…