Morning in Brugge
Our fourth day in Belgium began with a delicious continental breakfast at Hotel Salvators. Our kitty-friend decided to drop by our table and beg for food while we scarfed down freshly prepared eggs and (Belgian) waffles. I started to appreciate how even your average hotel in Belgium has superior breakfast to that which you’d find in the US.
From there we set off into the brisk Brugge morning to explore the city some more. The buildings, streets, and canals were beautiful in the bright morning light. Most shops were still closed at that hour so we had the streets to ourselves.
One goal was to scope out where we could eat dinner. We walked down one alley that had two hobbit-related restaurants across from each other. Who thought that Lord of the Rings would become a dining empire? The menus looked good, but thoughts of middle earth dining were quickly erased when we spotted Gambrinus’ Pub just off the Grote Markt. Gambrinus is, of course, the unofficial patron saint of beer. And, the pub advertised 400+ beers available.
Our plan for the day was to backtrack a bit eastward and hit some places we missed on our scamper to Westvleteren. Ooidonk Castle was only supposed to be open on weekends and it was Monday, but we decided to drive past it to at least take some pictures from the outside.
It was a beautiful arabesque-style castle with bulbous spires; the overcast day with grey clouds helped out the pictures. As expected, the castle was closed to visitors that day and it looked like they were preparing for a special event. Company party? Wedding? Bar Mitzvah? I was jealous no matter what.
After visiting the castle we headed in to Gent’s city center and quickly found our lunch destination: a sandwich shop in the city center.
Our lackluster Dutch kept us on the safe side of the menu, ordering tasty ham sandwiches and that drink of indomitable Europe-ness: Orangina! Of course you can find Orangina here in the U.S., but it’s more fun in Europe.
Our first destination in Gent was the Belfort bell/clock tower. For a nominal entrance charge you can climb 300 feet on a circular stone stairway to the top. There was only once dicey moment on the way up: having to pass another couple who were on their way down.
The tower itself was broken into several floors, allowing you a break to look at ancient artifacts on the way up.
The gargoyle with whom I’m pictured above was part of the original tower. It’s in rough shape nowadays because way-back-when they used to pour flaming oil out of it to scare the locals.
The view from the top of the tower was scary and amazing at the same time, and made me appreciate that they do not have (many) earthquakes in Belgium. I got a great view of the central city area and nearby landmarks, including an archeological dig happening next door.
At the top of the tower was also the mechanism responsible for sounding the clocktower bells. Every 15 minutes it would play a song that was programmed into a large (~4-ft diameter) metallic barrel, much like a giant music box.
If we thought the trip up the circular stairs was scary, we should have waited until we descended in the glass elevator built inside of this ancient stone building. Once that harrowing time had passed, we set out exploring the area some more. St. Baaf’s cathedral had an extensive basement area with many old artifacts. We also passed by the archeological dig site and walked towards Gravensteen castle, perched on the river’s edge.
The castle was really a fun stop because it was in excellent shape and they let you explore a large portion of the structure. A numbered course walked you through highlights such as the grand hall, armory, stables, bedrooms, cisterns, and toilets. Inside the castle were various exhibits such as a weaponry museum and a museum of torture instruments.
We ended our visit to Gent on that high note and headed back to Brugge. Van Steenberge brewery was on the way, so we stopped by to see if we could do a tasting. Unfortunately this maker of Gulden Drak and Piraat is closed to individuals; group tours only! A lot of the Belgian breweries that we know in the U.S. fall into this camp, but I was hoping this would be different.
Evening in Brugge
Alas, we hustled back to Brugge to hit the De Halve Maan brewery before closing time.
This is one of those beers you don’t see in the U.S. but it had a strong following with the locals. It’s a great location right in the old section of Brugge among the canals and restaurants. The tasting room also served simple appetizers and was quite busy. We ordered one each of the two beers they brewed and served: brune and blonde.
Our appetite whetted, we made our way to our dinner destination: Gambrinus. It was everything we had hoped and more. Even though the Delirium Cafe in Brussels had more beer, this was such an awesome experience that I would recommend it first any day.
The menu was clean, descriptive, and even bound in wood. It grouped the beers by style for easy selection.
Our first round: La Floreffe brune (dubbel) and Delirium “La Guillotine”, keeping with the theme of the day.
The food was excellent as well although I’m having trouble recalling what we ate. For our second round of beer we wanted to strike out in a new direction: sour beers. I’ve been lukewarm on them ever since I first tasted them a few years ago, but I feel that I can’t be a real beer lover if I don’t like them so I will keep trying. Belgium is where the styles got started, so this was my best chance of liking them! We selected a couple of likely candidates from the appropriate sections of the beer menu.
I ordered a geuze: Faro Girardin, or a blend of aged and fresh sour beers. Amanda got Oudbeitje, a lambic brewed with strawberries. Both were incredibly unique and complex, tasting of fruit and beer with only a mild sourness. Either these were significantly different than anything I’d ever tried, or my palette is softening to the sour beers.
Having eaten at old-people’s time, we left Gambrinus just as the sun was setting and made our way back to Hotel Salvators. Pandora had been guarding the package of chocolates we had purchased earlier, so we pulled out a couple to sample.
And what better way to enjoy chocolates than with a rich dark beer?
This particular specimen we had purchased the day before at the Be2 store. A word of advice: when travelling make sure you bring a bottle opener since trying to wedge open a bottle with a keyring is liable to spray beer throughout the hotel room.
Our marathon day of stairclimbing, castles, guillotines, beer, and food complete, we drifted off to sleep.
Today I tasted:
- Brugse Zot Blonde
- Brugse Zot Brune
- La Floreffe Brune
- Delirium La Guillotine
- Faro Girardin 1882
- Adriaen Brouwer dark
Total to date: 23 beers