Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Let there be light ... and chocolate!

On Monday, the last full day of our extended weekend break in Bruges, we lingered over breakfast, loading up our plates with different kinds of bread and other delicacies, while enjoying glasses of home made apple juice and strong cups of coffee.

Rain kept plinking into the puddles which had formed overnight, drenching what we could see of the garden through the rivulets of raindrops which had gathered on the breakfast room's windows.


When the rain finally eased off, we made a beeline to our car and drove down to Bruges, where we once again left our car at the station car park and made use of public transport to reach the city centre.

The rain might have stopped but it was still gloomy, with nasty clouds promising more rain overhead. This, however, did not deter our fellow tourists, who had once again gathered in their masses, intent on taking over every square centimeter of the city's cobbled streets.



From the bus stop, we meandered in the opposite direction of the day before, making our way via the Vismarkt (Fish Market) and a narrow passageway going under the quirky name of Blinde Ezelstraat (Blind Donkey Street) to the Burg, which might very well be Bruges' most architecturally interesting square.

At the end of the alley, a gateway passes under a building which seems to come straight out of a fairy tale. This is the Civiele Griffie (Old Civil Registry), which was built in the Renaissance style in 1537.

Before walking underneath the archway, we looked up to see Solomon standing tall with Prosperity to the left and Peace to the right.



On the Burg itself, the full splendour of the building is revealed, its recently restored facade opulently decorated with columns and gilded friezes and statues, with Lady Justice balancing the scales in a prominent position on top.

The crowned shield flanked by the gilded lion and brown bear represents Bruges' intriguing coat of arms.




And look, only one tourist in front of the building. Quick, let's grab this unique photo opportunity!



Next door is arguably the most impressive building on the Burg, the Town Hall. This magnificent  Gothic building dates from 1376, making it one of the oldest in the Low Countries. Its facade is richly decorated with gothic windows, turrets, statues of the Counts of Flanders and biblical figures and the coats of arms of subordinate towns.


In a corner of the square is one its smallest buildingsthe Basilica of the Holy Blood. The flamboyant facade, with its gilded statues and medallions representing the Counts of Flanders and their partners, is actually a 16th century staircase that connects two chapels: the lower Romanesque Saint-Basilius-chapel and the upper neo-gothic Holy Blood-chapel.


The church houses a relic of the Holy Blood allegedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought from the Holy Land by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders. Originally built between 1134 and 1157, the church was promoted to minor basilica in 1923.


After admiring the square's lavish architecture, we were getting hungry, so we made our way to the nearby Markt, where we had a meal on the terrace of the same restaurant we went to on our first day.

It was cold and the first drops of rain were starting to fall, so we were glad the terrace was covered and that we were sitting quite close to a heater.

We both had a craving for witloof in de oven, a classic of Belgian cuisine, which we'd seen on the menu. The dish consists of endives (or chicory) heads, which are rolled in ham, covered in a cheesy bechamel sauce and cooked in the oven, usually served with mashed potato. Yummy!


It was clear by now that we weren't going to see the sun again that day, so we had to make do with this sun-shaped cracker which came with our drinks!

We'd planned to walk to the Hansa Quarter after lunch, which we did, but the weather gods were well and truly against us, as it had started raining heavily.

There was nothing for it but to bring out the unwieldy umbrellas, which made taking photographs quite an ordeal. Along the way, we'd bought some cheap see-through plastic rain ponchos, looking a bit like oversized rain bonnets. At one point Mr. S. decided to wear his, which ended in fits of laughter. No way was I going to wear this!



From the 13th to the 15th century, Bruges was the most important trading centre in North-West Europe. In the old Hansa Quarter you can admire the mansions of the wealthy merchants of the era, and the whole quarter is drenched in a timeless atmosphere which is particularly charming, even on a rain drenched day!

And look, there's that bear again! This one is taking pride of place in a niche of the Poortersloge (Burgher's Lodge), which was built towards the end of the 14th century, and which was the place where wealthy citizens and foreign merchants met socially.

There's a legend attached to the bear, of course, involving a knight in shining armour called Baldwin Iron Arm, who heroically freed the city from a particularly aggressive bear. You can read the full story here.



Pelting down ever more more relentlessly, the rain drove us to a nearby museum. Or rather: two museums housed in one building, for which we bought a combined ticket.

The most popular one, Choco Story, tells the history of cocoa and chocolate, from its Mayan and Aztec origins to chocolate as we know it today.

Our ticket came with a free bar of chocolate (displayed on the museum guide on the top left) and it all started very promisingly with a huge chocolate egg, marking the museum's opening in 2004.


The museum is laid out over three floors and the average visit is supposed to take about one hour.

First we were taken through the customs, beliefs and everyday lives of the Mayas and the Aztecs, how they used cocoa as an offering to the gods, later using cocoa as a drink (equivalent to today's champagne - top right) and as a currency. On the bottom left is a piggy bank containing cocoa beans.

Later, the Spaniards adopted the drink, but added sugar to it, after which the sweet drink became the favourite beverage at Europe's royal courts.

All very interesting, if the crowds of tourists hadn't all decided to come as well, blocking the displays and making the going quite tough. As if this wasn't bad enough, there were bottlenecks at the three spots which had chocolate dispensers and where you could eat as much chocolate as you want. Needless to say, these were very popular!



Anyway, let's proceed with the history of the chocolate bar, which started much later that that of the drink. I was surprised to find out that in 1847 the first tablet of chocolate was moulded in England! 

Initially, chocolate was made by craftsmen only, but then industrialization gradually took over chocolate production and the rest, as they say, is history!

In the last part of the exhibition, we admired the many chocolate moulds, and learned about the history of Belgian producers, like Côte d'Or and Jacques (below). In these displays we recognized some things from our own little museum at Dove Cottage!



By then, we'd had quite enough of chocolate, not to mention the crowds, so we made our way to the turnstile entrance of the second museum, Lumina Domestica.

The museum contains the world’s largest collection of lamps and lights. More than six thousand objects tell the story of interior lighting, from the earliest prehistoric clay lamps and oil lamps that look like they’re holding a genie, to the light bulb and even LED.


We'd left the crowds behind stuffing their faces with free chocolate as, apart from one other couple, we were all alone, so that we could admire this amazing collection in peace!


We were quite dazzled by the time we left the building, finding that mercifully, if only temporarily, it had stopped raining.



Before heading back to our B&B, there was time for one more photo of me posing on one of the bridges crossing the Spiegelrei, a particularly picturesque corner of Bruges.

32 comments:

  1. You had a fab weekend in Bruges by the look of it - what a beautiful city; culture plus chocolate! I love the look of the lighting museum and the art deco pieces you took photos of were simply beautiful.

    I like the look of 'witloof in de oven it looks very tasty!

    Hope your week is going well.
    xxx

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    1. Thank you Vronnie! The lighting museum was very interesting, but quite overwhelming. There was so much to see. The art deco pieces were my favourites! xxx

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  2. Such spectacular architecture. I've never been to Belgium. But I know if I did I'd be one of those tourists stuffing their face with chocolate! And being the lamp freak that I am, that lighting museum would be the next place I'd visit after my chocolate binge.

    Theresa

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    1. Thank you Theresa! We did eat our share of chocolates, don't worry! xxx

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  3. I might need to try a version of that endive dish with veggie "ham" slices.

    The bear...how to put this...looks like he's been working out at the gym? It is a very human looking bear, at least in the second photo. Good thing the town was rid of him!

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    1. You're right about that bear! And I'm sure the dish is as tasty with veggie ham slices ... xxx

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  4. The architecture is stunning. We just don't have buildings that ornate or that old in North America. That is why I love visiting Europe.

    Ahhh! chocolate! My weakness. Fun to visit a museum with the history.

    I really dislike it when museums are over crowded. The experience goes from fun to annoying frustration rather quickly.

    Suzanne

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    1. Yes, it was rather frustrating, and we skipped quite a few of the displays because it was so crowded. The lighting museum on the other hand was an oasis of calm, as we practically had it to ourselves! xxx

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  5. Shame about the weather but the stunning architecture makes up for it and it looks like the weekend was a gastronomic delight.
    It looks worth a visit, even in the rain. xxx

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    1. Definitely worth a visit, Sally, and we still haven't scratched the surface ... xxx

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  6. you´r chic in blue & brown!
    feel sorry for all that rain and the misbehaving masses......
    but you brought some very pretty and interesting pics home. the burg ist totally stunning and the museums are both a very nice time travel. want such *witloof in de oven* for lunch now - it would fit because it rains since the night and will do so the whole day too.......
    (much needed for the plants & woods - so no complaining)
    big hugs! xxxxxx

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    1. Thank you Beate! Witloof in de oven certainly is a rainy day dish! xxx

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  7. Oh, it all looks so very, very beautiful, despite the rain and the crowds. You can see why the tourists love it. (I'm wondering if it would be less busy in the week, as it seems to be a popular weekend break destination.) All those bears are fab. I always make Pete photograph lion statues when we're on holiday as most places have excellent lions, but it looks like the lions would get swapped for bears in Bruges.

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    1. Thank you Mim. I presume it is less crowed in the week. We went there on a Friday once, and I don't remember it being that crowded. Next time, we'll do a mid week! xxx

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  8. More beautiful photos and captivating writing, Ann! The architecture is so beautiful and the scenery is so picturesque! I so want to visit Belgium! The chocolate museum looks wonderful too: I could easily spend the whole day there! Ha! I'd love to try the witloof in de oven too: it looks delicious! I really hope I can travel to Belgium one day to catch up with you Ann! XXX

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    1. Wouldn't it be fantastic to catch up? And you get free guides in the process ;-) xxx

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  9. Despite the inclement weather I think all your readers (me included) want to jet off to Bruges right now!
    The bear is magnificent and I adore that pretty row of houses on the river.
    Love what you wore, too - no jeans and cagoules in sight! xxx

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    1. No jeans, unless I find a funky pair of Lois bell bottoms in Think Twice, which isn't very likely! xxx

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  10. Ann thank you for this stunning trip to Brügge :) So many wonderful pictures and information. Chocolate all you can eat :))
    Thank you so much for so much pictures, hard to take when it is raining I know.
    While I read your post yet it's starting to raining here. I think about your trip, if I am sitting on my bicycle in one hour ;)
    I wish you a nice day, huge hug Tina

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    1. Thank you Tina, I'm glad you liked reading about my little trip. Not much fun cycling in the rain, though! xxx

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  11. It looks like you had a super time despite the rain and hordes! I love the sound of that chicory dish, I will have to find a recipe. That last photo of you is super Xx

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    1. Thank you! I hope you find a good recipe, but my version is very simple: just put some whole chicory heads (with the bitterest part at the bottom removed) in the microwave until soft, then roll in slices of ham, cover with bechamel cheese sauce, then put the dish in the oven until slightly browned on top. xxx

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  12. what a fabulous report of Brugge, I love particularly all the details your shared, the bear story, the beatiful gothic façades, the piggy bank containing cocoa bins at the Museum! (totally my kind of thing!)
    sorry that Choco-Story was so crowded, but chocolate is really popular!, I understand it!
    This last picture of you looks fabulous!
    besos

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    1. Thank you Monica! There were quite a few families with children too. As you say, chocolate is quite popular. Lighting not so much ;-) xxx

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  13. All those amazing buildings! It's just boggling how very old everything i! My part of the world has only been occupied by white people for less than 200 years, so there are no buildings here older than the late 1800s, when the Klondike Gold Rush caused the population to boom.

    The chocolate museum (free samples??) looks so cool, but ugh, the crowds would have done me in as well.

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    1. Thank you Sheila! Yes, Bruges (or Brugge in Flemish) has its fair share of amazing buildings. The crowds in the museum weren't much fun, but the free samples of chocolates were worth it ;-) xxx

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  14. Such a fun and engaging post. I agree so many these photographs look as they did come from a fairytale. The shots of the gothic castle are beautiful and the lighting museum is divine. I love the idea of hot coffee and homemade apple juice on a rainy day.
    I follow a lot of blogs in different areas of the world, and it seems to be raining everywhere! Anyway, have a happy weekend !
    ❤️❤️❤️
    Elle
    https://theellediaries.com/

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    1. Thank you Elle. Bruges has its fair share of beautiful buildings and fairy tale-like corners, which can be appreciated even on a rainy day. xxx

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  15. Thank you Ann for providing all the history of Brugge that my post so lacked. Although in my defence I just about had three hours there, unlike your three days. Bruges looks so beautiful whatever the weather.xxx

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    1. I'm sure you can barely scratch the surface in three hours. Even two and a half days weren't enough to cover it all. I guess we both have to go back! xxx

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  16. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photographs and interesting stories with us, Ann! I grew up and live in the newer part of the world (at least, what we call modern civilization), and such virtual travels to the Old World are especially fun and educational to me! I enjoyed it a lot! <3

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    1. I guess we are rather spoiled here in the Old World, and tend to take things too much for granted. Sometimes it is good to look at things with fresh eyes! xxx

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