More Beer in Belgium Part III

Okay, without further ado and almost a year ago from our actual trip, I bring you our 3rd and final adventure… who said anything about timing?

Enjoy….

The last leg of our trip was spent in Bruxelles.  We took a direct train from Brugge into The Central Train Station.  We knew we had arrived as soon as we stepped foot onto the wet pavement.  C’est vrai,  10 months out of the year leaves Brussels rather soggy. Our time spent here lacked any sunshine or blue skies.  Nonetheless, we came prepared and made the best of it.  After we located our umbrellas and rain jackets, our hotel was less than a 5 minute walk.  We stayed at an IBIS hotel which is a popular chain  for business travelers in Europe and was located in a perfect location for us–just a 5 minute walk from the train station and right around the corner from the Grand Place.  (Which is the most exquisite square in all of Europe!) Needless to say, we knew exactly what to expect with comfort and hospitality and after almost 2 weeks abroad that was all we wanted.

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After a little nap and a quick brush up on mon français, our first stop was A la Becasse.  Founded in 1877, this lambic cafe is still run by the original family.

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We sampled the Timmermans lambic doux and the lambic blanc.  Timmerman’s has been serving lambics in clay jars since 1825.

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For our first night, we did the most touristy thing you could do and dined at one of the restaurant’s located on the Grand Place.   Look, it was right next to our hotel and the weather was crappy… so naturally it was the best idea for dinner. Go ahead and judge us.  We ordered mussels and pomme frites and let’s be honest, in Belgium, it is really hard to mess that up.  Yes, we might of paid a little more… but we were exhausted and who doesn’t love a embellished gold façade ?

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In keeping with the lambic tradition, I tried the Mort Subite Kriek Lambic and my bearded man had the Maes Pils.

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I never quite captured the Grand Place at night…

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Lit up against the night sky, it really was “All that Gold” cue Menotti

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Just past the Grand Place and across Rue du Lombard is the most iconic figure in all of Brussels…

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Le Manneken-Pis.

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You heard me, a pissing statue of a little boy.  And trust me when I say he is a big deal.  This garçon is THE mascot of Brussels.  He represents the unpretentious Bruxellois.

In fact, King Louis XV knighted him. So technically it’s Sir Manneken-Pis.  There is even an entire section within the Brussels Museum (Musée de la Ville de Bruxelles) dedicated to the some 800 costumes that have been gifted to Sir Manneken; the oldest being from King Louis himself.  Everything from an Elvis ensemble to a Brazilian Carnival and everything in between.

Très bizarre.

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Moving on.

Our first full day in Brussels we ventured to the Cantillon Brewery.  It was about a 35 minute walk southwest of the Grand Place and definitely a walk through the unpretentious streets of Brussels.  We took the self-guided tour through the brewery which cost us roughly 8 euros each and included a beer afterwards.

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Stage 1: The Brewing Area- where the mashing tun begins…

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Stage 5: Barrel Storage- let the natural fermentation begin…

Stages 2-4 (not pictured) included: Hop boilers, the granary and cooling tun.

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My favorite stage: Drinking– Cantillon Gueze Lou Pepe 2013

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Cantillon Kriek and Cantillon Lambic d’Haute Densité

Not pictured but thoroughly enjoyed: the Cantillon Iris and the Cantillon Fou’Foune

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Did I mention Brussels is covered in murals? Look, it’s our friend, Manneken-Pis.  

Excuse-moi, Sir Manneken-Pis.

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The streets of Brussels.

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Place de la Bourse 

aka The original Brussels Stock Exchange, one of the oldest in the world.  The building no longer houses the BSE and plans are to turn it into a future Beer Museum.

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A beautiful building that attracts tourists and beards alike.

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Hey, there’s a Starbucks in every city.

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After gazing around the Grand Place again…

(you should know I never grow weary from gold) we headed North to explore some of the other neighborhoods Brussels had to offer.

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Ste. Catherine Neighborhood is roughly a 15 minute walk from the Grand Place.

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It’s a quaint neighborhood–there are artisan shops, cafes, and plenty of seafood restaurants alike.

And lots of street art.

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We grabbed a quick pick-me-up at Mer du Nord/Nordzee.  This cozy seafood market boasts an inexpensive menu that serves up fresh fare made to order at the walk-up bar.

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We tried the scampi à la plancha et les calamars and you should too.

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Place Ste. Catherine

This square turns into a Market on the weekends.  On Tuesdays not so much.

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After exploring Ste. Catherine–we headed back to the hotel to freshen up but mostly to  decide where to eat next.

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The best thing about Brussels is how culturally diverse the people and food are.

We found a Indian Restaurant called L’Everest that specialized in Nepalese cuisine in the business district and had to check it out.

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This walk to dinner also included many murals.

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Our last full day happened to be on Wednesday, June 1st and lo and behold, on the first Wednesday of every month, the Bruxella Museum (which is literally underneath La Bourse) opens its doors to the public.

There are only 2 tours done that day one in English and one in French.  We miscalculated the time of the English tour and missed it by 20 minutes. So we opted for the French tour.  Je parle un petit peu français.

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We purchased our tickets at the Brussels Museum (Musée de la Ville de Bruxelles) the building seen here on your left of the Grand Place. (Don’t forget the Manneken-Pis costumes are housed here too!) We toured the Museum while we waited for our tour to start.  And we were in luck that day.  We were apparently the only 2 people interested in a French tour.  Dieu merci!  I told our guide that I spoke some french and that she could give the tour in french if she desired.  She politely declined in English and it was a good thing she chose not to because it was an intense hour detailing the very extensive history and creation of the city of Brussels. Lemme tell you, this city has been completely broken down and built up from scratch more times than Jenna Maroney was ever able to nail a Mickey Rourke sex joke.  Thanks 30 Rock! 

We began our history lesson with our fav, the Grand Place.  So apparently… during the 19th century a butter market occupied the Grand Place.  Butter=$$  Later towards the end of the 19th century it was replaced by a trade market and now it’s a historical UNESCO site and the most important landmark in Brussels. Add that to your Jeopardy list!

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And just right outside the Grand Place adjacent from La Bourse is the Church of Saint Nicolas.

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We went inside to continue our history lesson where we learned that this church was bombed during the bombardment of Brussels by the French troops of Louis XIV in 1695.  Also, so was the entire city.  Brussels was pretty much burnt to a crisp that day.  It was the most destructive event in its entire history. The Grand Place was destroyed, along with a third of the buildings in the city.  On the bright side, this church survived… well half of it, anyway. The hole above is where a canon is still remains lodged from the bombardment.

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We made our way into the Bruxelles 1238 (underground) Museum.  Come to find out, in 1238, a Franciscan convent settled down where La Bourse now lies and  played a crucial role in the development of the social and religious life of Brussels…until it was burned and destroyed.  I told you Brussels has had a long history with fire… This monastery wasn’t discovered until the late 1980’s while the city was doing renovation work on the Rue de la Bourse and accidentally uncovered numerous graves from the 13th century which then welcomed a historical archaeological dig. Ha!

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The tour was about an hour from start to finish and was a completely unexpected experience.

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After school let out our tour ended, we headed East of the Grand Place to the Palais Royale. 

We visited the St. Michael’s Cathedral on our way.

Another Fun Fact: We learned during our history lesson that churches built with 2 towers signified a higher political importance than say other churches within the city with only one tower.

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Bienvenue à Parc de Bruxelles!

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This park is located across the Royal Palace (Palais Royale) and pays homage to is a knock-off of Versailles.  The Palace wasn’t open for tours so we just walked around its jardin.

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Jardin de Sculpture is literally a garden of sculptures.   La Rivière is probably the most famous within this park, created by Rodin’s contemporary, Aristide Maillol, a master of the female form (obvi).

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Back to Beer.

Our last evening in Brussels we checked out Moeder Lambic.  This bar has a cool industrial feel and has over a dozen beers on tap.  The food was pretty bland.  I recommend just coming here for beers.

 LEFT: l’Abbaye du Val-Dieu Triple and De Ranke Noir de Dottingnies. TOP RIGHT: Caulier Blonde and Moeder Lambic Band of Brothers. BOTTOM RIGHT: Cantillon Lambic Framboise and Tilquin Gueuze.

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Our final rendez-vous was at La Porte Noire.  We really felt like locals at this underground cavern.  The ambiance was laid back, the staff only spoke french, and the music was classic American Hipster.

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We tried the Abbaye Paix Dieu Triple and the Westmalle Trappist

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And the grand finale: Trappist Rochefort 8

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Afterwards, we wandered back to the beginning.  One cannot simply leave Brussels without making sure that you have taken sufficient 500 photographs of the Grand Place at every hour.

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501 photos

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502 photos

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503 photos

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At the stroke of midnight I finally made the transition to European.  It was a fairy tale come true.

Water with gas and fries with mayo.

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The next morning we had one last liege waffle, posed with the bearded statue outside our hotel, and then made our way to the airport.

We made sure to pick up the #1 beer in the world on our way out.  The Trappist Westvleteren 12 (XII).  This bottle will set you back roughly 16-22 euros depending on where you can find it.

From Philadelphia to Rome, then to Sicily…Sicily to Barcelona… Barcelona to Brugge via Brussels then back to Brussels to return home after 2 weeks was quite the excursion but was well worth it. If you’re planning a Summer trip to Europe, May is the best time to go.  It’s before the peak tourist season and before the heat really kicks in.  Remember, Europe isn’t used to Central AC like the U.S.

À bientôt mes amis!

-Ashley

Beer in Belgium Part II

I’m back! Let’s see, where did I leave you? Ah yes, after having spent a week exploring the Mediterranean (Click here in case you missed that post)– we changed course and headed North to the Beer capital of the world–Belgium.  For what we considered our beercation.

First stop: Brugge*, Belgium (via Bruxelles)

*Brugge is the Flemish pronunciation and Bruges is the French.

Ok, let’s get to the good part.  Fast forward past the train strike that started as soon as we arrived to our platform from the Bruxelles airport (FYI there are no direct flights to Brugge); don’t worry, the train finally came…now skip over the transfer that nearly didn’t happen due to the aforesaid train strike (imagine literally jumping onto your transfer with less than 1 second to go AND 2 weeks worth of luggage in hand…Thank God we are train station aficionados  and found our platform without a moment’s hesitation..trust me there was no time for second guessing); ok…still keep fast forwarding past the local bus in Brugge that broke down on the way to our hotel… and STOP at Hotel Patritius. Whew.

And our hotel was absolutely charming…

Actually, now if I may rewind a bit… I had been to Brugge once before when I was studying abroad in Paris (eight years ago) and it was an incredible trip. It was the first time I had traveled by myself and may I just say… Brugge is just the loveliest little town.  Everyone is friendly and speaks English, French, and Flemish (just in case your tri-lingual) and honestly you really don’t even need a map to get around.  You can leisurely wander around the town for an hour or so and find your way back to where you started without even realizing it.  Brugge just feels like home.

Having said that…my recollection of these said adventures wound up being a little hazy when trying to relive some of the experiences I had…. (me: Wait, I think I went down this street to find the best chocolate store, no wait–there was this amazing waffle truck at the end of a cobblestone street near a canal…I think) but with the help of my husband we came very close.

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This square (Simon Stevinplein) was a favorite of mine upon my first trip to Brugge.  On the weekends it transforms into a flea market and it was here that my life was changed I had my first liege waffle.

There are a few restaurants located here and if it’s a beautiful day you most certainly should request to sit outside.

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We had dinner on the square at Poules Moules.  Probably the best mussels we’ve had.  To begin our Belgium beercation I had the local brewery’s Straffe Hendrik tripel and my date tried the Orval Trappist.

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After dinner we had a night cap at ‘t Brugs Beertje.

They have more than 300 Belgium beers to choose from.  So one could easily never leave here…

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We enjoyed the first of many lambics…I had the Cantillon Gueuze and the gentleman had the Brouwei Fonteine Oude Gueuze

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De Hobbit is a few doors down from ‘t brugs beertje while we never made it here, it looked totally adorbs.

What can I say, I’m a sucker for Christmas lights.

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Our hotel had a lovely spread each morning. It included your traditional European breakfast.  We always try and stay at places with complimentary breakfast.  It’s worth it in our books.

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For our first full day in Brugge we set out early for the De Halve Maan Brewery

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Hidden just around this cobblestone corner.

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Look! It’s a beer pipeline!

De Halve Maan Brewery is in the final stages of completing an actual beer pipeline from the brewery in Brugge (founded in 1856) to it’s bottling facility right outside of the city.

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The brewery is still run by the original family

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This lovely copper contraption was the original cooling system for the wort.  Back in 1856, copper was used as the heat exchanger to rapidly cool the wort.  Today’s modern technology allows for fancy cooling tanks.

I think it makes for a lovely piece of art now.

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Half way through the tour we were brought up to the roof deck for some panoramic views of the city.

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In Brugge and In Love

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Here ends the tour.

We came out of this little red door that opened into the courtyard.  Naturally, we went straight for the bar.

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We received our complimentary Brugse Zot on draft.

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Blondes in Belgium.

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We spent a good hour or so in the courtyard.  Drinking.

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Our next tasting was of the Straffe Hendrik triple and the Straffe Hendrik quad.

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Afterwards we wandered through ‘chocolate row’ found on Katelijnestraat.  And yes, you should absolutely go inside each and every chocolate shop. Trust me.

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Chocolate Row

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My favorite chocolate shop was Dumon. Their chocolates are tiny pieces of  sophisticated art.  They have two locations–we went to the newer store front which is in my favorite square Simon Stevinplein I mentioned earlier.  I recommend walking north on chocolate row and ending at Dumon. It was the chocolate icing on the cake.

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The shopping district begins right past the square, behind Dumon on Steenstraat which becomes Zuidzandstraat.  Every other store is of lace and it’s fun to walk into each one and see what beautiful delicacies each one has.

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After we finished shopping, we circled back to the Markt.

The Markt  is really the heart of Brugge.

I think we walked through here at least a dozen times.  It’s almost impossible not to.

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The colorful Flemish architecture was my favorite.

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 Right off the Markt, is 2be Bar… a tourist attraction for sure.

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The beer wall.

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We sampled the Delirium tremens on tap.  This is a fairly priced and accessible bottle in the States, but we have never had it on draft.

2be is pretty cool for your tacky tourist adventure.  The rotating beer list on draft wasn’t anything to brag about but below the bar is a cavern of bottled beers for sale that exceed your wildest dreams.

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Outside is a nice beer garden–but it was way too crowded for us to try and squeeze in.

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We finished our beer and day here and headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

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Did I mention, how hard it is to take a bad picture in this town…

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Really hard…what an awful evening in Brugge.

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For dinner, L’Estaminet was recommended to us as one of the locals favorite place to eat.

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The beer and food did not disappoint!

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This place is known for its inexpensive pasta dishes and I’ll vouch that my pasta carbonara was nothing short of egg-cellent!

Our beers for the evening were a Geuze Boon and the Karmeliet Tripel

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After dinner, we strolled around town again…here we are at Burg Square.

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Just past Burg Square and right down this teeny tiny alley, is Brugge’s best kept secret.

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Welcome to Bar De Garre.

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 Home to classical music and its own exclusive Tripel van de Garre.

(You had me at complimentary cheese)

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The next morning we enjoyed breakfast in the garden.

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We decided to rent bikes for the day and explore the countryside.  It was possibly one of the best decisions we’ve ever made together.

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We followed this canal all the way to the little town of Damme.

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Just before arriving in Damme  we visited The Schelle Windmill

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Also known as Schellemolen

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The Schellemolen dates back to 1867 and is one of roughly a dozen actual working (milling) windmills in Flanders.

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There was enough wind that day to see the gears and all the moving parts just milling away.

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We awoke an old man nodding off in a dusty wooden chair.  He seemed happy to see us and said something to us in Flemish which I imagine was “enjoy yourselves and have a look around” and then gave us a little pamphlet on windmills (in Flemish).  It was probably the most authentic part of the experience.

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150 year old windshaft.

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Milling grain.

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I imagine the old man lives in this house which is right next to the Windmill.  But I could be making that up.

We continued down this path until we arrived at this picturesque bridge that lead us into town.

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The Damme Canal

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also known as Damse Vaart

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Strolling through the sleepy town of Damme.

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After all that exercise we were perched.  We stopped by a little cafe/chocolate shop Dam’s Broodhuisje  and while I spoke very highly of Dumon just moments ago…  the chocolate at Dam’s Broodhuisje takes the chocolate cake!  Not to mention they serve beer.

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We tried the local Maerlant Triple, brewed on the outskirts of Damme and the Viven Blonde.

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Biking back to Brugge we trekked on the other side of the canal which was wide open farm land.  We saw cows, goats, and sheep.  There were horses and farmers and locals biking with their families.

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Following passed the countryside, we biked through what I believe to be the suburbs of Brugge.

Just when you thought Brugge couldn’t get any cuter, you stumble upon its own little suburb.

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Entering back into the city we came through Dampoort.  This was the original gate into the city and during the Medieval period it circled around the entire town.

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Just past the gate is St. Janshuys Windmill.

This is an example of a windmill that is no longer a working (milling) windmill.

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The final leg of our bike excursion–back into town we go!

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Horrible picture.  Sorry for posting.

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After a little cat nap, we strolled through the Markt (again)

The Bell Tower (Belfort) is adjacent to the colorful houses I showed you earlier and has been a part of Brugge since the 1300s.

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For our last night we finally found the restaurant I had dined at when I came to Brugge by myself.

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Curiosa it’s located right off the Markt and in an old wine cellar.

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We tried the Kwak (seen in this science tube experiment) and the Grimbergen Blond. Have a mentioned that each beer in Belgium has it’s own unique glass?  It’s true.  And the Kwak just so happens to belong in this funny glass–wooden stand included.

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After dinner, we returned to ‘t brugs beertje for a Saison Dupont on draft.  This is one of our go-to beers Stateside but we’ve never seen it on draft.   Not to mention it was either 3 or 4 euro.

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For our last night cap, a local at ‘t brugs beertje told us to check out t’ Poatersgat

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As you can see it wasn’t that crowded and the hoppy decor was charming.

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We ended our night with a Westmalle Trappist Tripel and the Achel blond Trappist.

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Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.

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Late night canals.

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Our last morning we took one last stroll around town…

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…and passed through the Markt once again….

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It starting raining which was the perfect time to grab some afternoon tea at Patisserie Prestige before heading to the train station.

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And….Lemon Out!

Next stop: Bruxelles