12. BELGIUM

BELGIUM

Our week of luxury in Paris at the Le Meridien Hotel in Montparnasse, came to an end. It was time to continue on.  We drove north into Belgium.

Our first Belgium destination was the city of Brugge.  Brugge has canals running through it similar to Amsterdam.

The city center is surrounded by an oval or more of an “egg” shaped canal.  Inside the “egg” is the historical area famous for it’s medieval architecture. So famous it is designated at a U.N.E.S.C.O. World Heritage Site. The architecture and atmosphere draws many tourists.

Motor traffic is discouraged in this area except for delivery vehicles and local residents. That makes is a great place to walk around in.

Brugge is also famous for having a Michelangelo sculpture; Madonna and Child.   And…. the famous painter Jan Van Eyck  lived and worked in Brugge in the 15 century.  (Van Eyck pained the Arnolfini Portrait. You may not know it by name but, you’ve more than likely seen this wonderful painting.)

It was nearly 6:00 O’Clock by time we drove into Brugge and met up with our couch surfing hosts. They had already eaten dinner but they kindly offered to take us to a very nice French Fry restaurant. Our hosts knew their fries; for 15 years they owned a fries restaurant.

Did you know the fried potatoes known around the world as, “French fries” originated in Belgium in the latter part of the 17th century.

Did you know that potatoes didn’t even exist in Europe before the 1500’s.  Yup. it was the Spanish who brought the potato to Europe from South America in the 1500s.

Do you now how many types of potatoes there are?   My research came up with the numbers of, “575”, “Over 1,000” and “about 2,000.”    No matter the total number… there are a LOT more potatoes than I’ve known about.

Our hosts gave us a quick education on Fries.  If the fires are a golden brown color on the edges, they have been fried in animal fat. If they do not have the brown color, they have been fried in vegetable oil.

There is a lot more to learn about fries but … just eat them and enjoy.   Belgium people like to eat their fries with lots of mayonnaise.

Belgium food is said to have the gourmet quality of French food, and the portions of German food.  So Belgians fondly call their cuisine   “Gourmande.”

After eating our fries our hosts gave us a short night driving tour around Brugge.  Very beautiful.

The next day we ventured into Brugge on our own. We found the city center easy to walk around in.  The architecture really is beautiful and worthy of many photos.  There are also many shops that sell the food Belgium is world famous for… Chocolate!

I mean there are a lot of chocolate shops.  There are chocolate treats in every size and shape you could want.  You can buy just a little taste or several kilos of chocolate.

The trick is to pass up the tourist chocolate shops and find a Gooooood Chocolatier who has his own shop.

There are about 300 companies in Belgium selling chocolate. Neuhaus was the first chocolate company in Belgium opening it’s doors in 1857.

Oh yea, Cacoa was another food that the Spanish brought back from the “New World.”  The trees are indigenous to Mexico.  As you know, chocolate is made from the fruit of the Cacao tree. Cacao, a Mayan word, was first made into a drink that was reserved for the ruling class only.

Soon Jeong and I walked around thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Our hosts told us a good place to get really GOOD chocolate. The shop was called The Chocolate Line.  ( www.thechocolateline.be ) Hmmmmm it was really…..      ….   really    ……………

REALLY……I MEAN REALLLY  good chocolate.  The owner Dominique Persoone, a master chocolatier, was there making chocolate in the factory at the back of the shop. There is a large glass window so you can watch them making the chocolate.

I was so impressed with the chocolate and Mr Persoone’s passion for chocolate…. I bought his book and had him sign it.

The bad part of tasting good Belgium chocolate is that is ruin you.  After you have sampled the good stuff everything else is just awful….  Hershey chocolate???… yuck! rubbish!

I forgot to mention… Soon Jeong and I ate chocolate with our breakfast. We were told that it was a normal part of breakfast in Belgium.  Why not?

We were only in Brugge for two days but we could have easily spent twice as long there…. eating chocolate of course.

Saturday April 11 we arrived in Brussels. Our couch surfing host and hostess introduced us to a good seafood restaurant.  Our hostess was a journalist who wrote reviews of local restaurants. So we were in good hands.  The restaurant was famous for a bucket of muscles.

It was the weekend so the next morning we first wandered through a near by farmers market. Sort of a weekend market thing.

Wonderful fresh stuff, lots of cheese and some  tomatoes like I had never seen before. They looked really fresh but strange looking.

Then we went downtown.

Everybody knows Belgium is famous for the Manneken Pis.  Right?  Copies of this are seen everyday all over the world.  Manneken Pis can be found in gardens, on greeting cards and in advertising. But it is only in Brussels, Belgium that you can find the original….. Pissing boy, as we all know him.

Yup the original Pissing Boy, In brussels at the corner of Rue de L`Etuve stoofstraat and Rue du Chene Eikstraat.  Actually the bronze statue you see today is the SECOND one and it was made in 1619. According to Wikipedia the original was made in 1388. No matter how you count it, the little boy has been peeing for a long time.

There were two things that surprised me about pissing boy; first, its small!  Only 24 inches high.  The second is the tube stuck in his butt.  I hadn’t thought about it but it stands to reason that all that “pee” has to come from someplace.

We were told by Peter that they dress the boy up in different costumes and at certain times of the year they connect him to a keg of beer and he pees beer.

Not far from the famous Pissing Boy was the not-so-famous Pissing Girl. There is no real historical background to the Pissing Girl. When you see her, you will quickly recognize that she is a modern day (being created in 1985) marketing plan to get tourists to stroll down the dead end street where she conveniently squats near shops and cafes.

Besides waffles, chocolate and the pissing boy, what else comes to mind when I mention Belgium.  Of course…. BEER.

A bit about Belgium beer.  If you know anything about Belgium you know that the are a LOT of beers in Belgium. Just how many depends on how you count them.  If you look at the different TYPES of beer such as: white beer, brown beer, golden beer, red beer, dark beer, lambic beer, ale, stout, champagne beer, and many many more.  Counting these could total as few as 23 (www.bjcp.org) or as many as 400.

Ask a Belgian and he or she might say, “thousands!”  And there is some support that this could be correct.

Still you could only end up counting three: top-fermenting, bottom-fermenting, and spontaneous-fermenting.  Or you could just count two types….. Ale and Lager!

So, just how many beers are in Belgium?   Who cares …. just drink man, drink!

I am not a beer connoisseurs but I found that I liked Hoegaarden beer. I preferred the Speciale and the Grand Cru.  This IS good beer. You would expect that from a brewery that opened in 1445. They’ve had a long time to get it right.

Soon Jeong liked Morte Subite, Kriek Beer.  It had a cherry flavor to it. She loved it. I thought it was awful…. cherry flavored beer??   Gimmy a break.

Anyway, we did our part and drank our share of Belgium beer.

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