Beer Tour of Belgium – Day 4: Gent and Brugge

Morning in Brugge

Clock tower in Brugge

Clock tower 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.

Canals on beautiful Brugge morning

Canals on beautiful Brugge morning

Amanda and Pandora near a Brugge canal

Amanda and Pandora near a Brugge canal

Brugge clocktower and canal

Brugge clocktower and canal

Me by a Brugge canal

Me by a Brugge canal

Ooidonk Castle

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.

Ooidonk castle being prepared for a party

Ooidonk castle being prepared for a party

Grounds of castle Ooidonk

Grounds of castle Ooidonk

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.

Gent

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.

Pandora loves Orangina!

Pandora loves Orangina!

Simple but tasty sandwiches in Gent

Simple but tasty sandwiches in Gent

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.

Belfort tower in Gent

Belfort tower in Gent

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.

Gargoyle and Chuck in Belfort

Gargoyle and Chuck in Belfort

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.

St. Baaf's cathedral from Belfort

St. Baaf's cathedral from Belfort

Archeological dig in central Gent

Archeological dig in central Gent

Gent rooftops from the Belfort

Gent rooftops from the Belfort

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.

Bell tower song drum

Bell tower song drum

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.

Archeological dig site from ground level

Archeological dig site from ground level

Side of Gravensteen castle

Side of Gravensteen castle

Flanders flag above Gravensteen castle

Flanders flag above Gravensteen castle

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.

Surprise! It's a guillotine...

Surprise! It's a guillotine...

Hall in Castle Gravensteen

Hall in Castle Gravensteen

Old farm gear outside Gravensteen

Old farm gear outside Gravensteen

Hallway in Gravensteen

Hallway in Gravensteen

Me outside of Gravensteen

Me outside of Gravensteen

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.

De Halve Maan brewery

De Halve Maan brewery

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.

Brugse Zot brune and blonde

Brugse Zot 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.

Gambrinus beer menu bound in wood

Gambrinus beer menu bound in wood

The menu was clean, descriptive, and even bound in wood. It grouped the beers by style for easy selection.

Bar and beer fridges at Gambrinus

Bar and beer fridges at Gambrinus

Our first round: La Floreffe brune (dubbel) and Delirium “La Guillotine”, keeping with the theme of the day.

La Floreffe Brune and La Guillotine

La Floreffe Brune and La Guillotine

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.

Faro Girardin 1882 at Gambrinus

Faro Girardin 1882 at Gambrinus

Oudbeitje lambic at Gambrinus

Oudbeitje lambic at Gambrinus

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.

Brugge clocktower at sunset

Brugge clocktower at sunset

Brugge buildings at sunset

Brugge buildings at sunset

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.

Dumon chocolates from Brugge

Dumon chocolates from Brugge

And what better way to enjoy chocolates than with a rich dark beer?

Adriaen Brouwer dark beer in plastic cups

Adriaen Brouwer dark beer in plastic cups

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.

Beers Tasted

Today I tasted:

  • Brugse Zot Blonde
  • Brugse Zot Brune
  • La Floreffe Brune
  • Delirium La Guillotine
  • Faro Girardin 1882
  • Oudbeitje
  • Adriaen Brouwer dark

Total to date: 23 beers

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