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Stairs. Stairs. Everywhere stairs - stairs. We had asked about the stairs in the B&B where we would be staying in Bruges. "14 stairs" we were told - in writing! This time it is 30 - there are 14 stairs in one of the spiral staircases. The other has 16! Hmm. . .we count 30 stairs! But aren't they beautiful?
Barrie raised an interesting question, "Would we have stayed here if we were told there were 30 steps?" If the answer is "no", we would be the losers as this is a beautiful home for the next few nights. We have a view of the canal and of the village and churches. The Church of Our Lady is right outside our window! Sometimes it is better to not know the answers and have a great surprise!
Once we are in the room and the suitcases are with us, we no longer care about the stairs and we can go explore.
Bruges - what a storybook little village - like something out of a movie. Just because we could, we spent a few hours watching the movie In Bruges while "in Bruges". (A room in our B&B was used as the room in which Colin Farrell and Brendon Gleeson stayed in the movie.)
Bruges is just the way you want it to be: small, quaint, with beautiful town squares and lovely canals. On our first night we found a wonderful Flemish restaurant. We had country pate and Flemish Beef Stew that melted in our mouths. A nice bottle of 2009 Chasse-Spleen Moulis and life is good! Our only complaint - a snooty waiter who refused to let us take home what we couldn't eat. Too much great food wasted. (Since it was served to us with a ladle from a soup tureen, we hadn't touched the stew - we hope someone was able to enjoy it!)
Tonight we sleep with our windows open and the sound of the water in the canals lapping at the stone walls. Once again, we realize how blessed we are. The sign in our bedroom at home says it all: "Thank You God For Blessing Me Much More Than I Deserve".
Today is Easter and we celebrated by eating too much for breakfast and going to attend the Easter service in the Church of Our Lady. Since we could not understand the language, I quickly made up my own translation as it sounded phonetically. I think I got part of it correct! Except the part about "Maria Macarena". I never figured that out.
Let's talk Belgium food and let's start with breakfast. We had found a restaurant that was reported to be the best place in Bruges for breakfast: Patisserie Prestige. As we entered the restaurant, we were treated to an unbelievable array of pastries. The menu was simple. Choose from the following:
3 pastries with O.J. and coffee
3 pastries with O.J. eggs and coffee
3 pastries with O.J. eggs, cheese, ham, yogurt, fresh fruit and coffee.
Once the order is placed, the customers get up and go to the pastry case to choose 3 pastries. I believe the reason they do this is so you have to get up and walk at least a few steps for exercise because they know the amount of food that is coming!
We go back to our table with 6 large pastries between the 2 of us, then the other food starts to arrive! By now we have made friends with the waitress. We found ourselves so much in her good graces that she pulled an extra table over to ours to help hold all the food! Now in fairness to us, think tables that are about 24" in diameter and then try to imagine putting breakfast for two plus the drinks on a table that is meant to hold a drink and maybe one plate of food! However, this was more like breakfast for six - six families!
Before we leave, we ask her if we can share a breakfast if we come back and she assures us that we can. She also gives us a bag to take home the pastries and ham & cheese that we could not eat. This is certainly not how we were treated last night at dinner! Patisserie Prestige will become "our" breakfast place.
Tonight as we walked through one of the beautiful side streets making our way back to our B&B, we ran into our waitress from breakfast! She was carrying a sack with two pineapples, two mangos and some pomegranates! She was going home to "juice" them! So that is why the Belgians are thin - they don't eat the wonderful waffles, beef stew, frites, pastries, chocolates, etc. that they feed to the tourists! They go home and "juice"! She asked us if she would see us tomorrow for breakfast and I said, "If you let us share a breakfast"! She laughed and went on her way with her healthy fruits for juicing!
Today we decided to play serious tourists as we have some things we want to see. There is a beautiful Michelangelo sculpture of the Madonna with Child carved from marble. It is the only work of Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime. We go back to the Church of Our Lady to see this sculpture and several other beautiful pieces. Statues of the 12 apostles line the sanctuary that we sat in yesterday for Easter. Outside the chapel area are more sculptures from other artists of the Madonna and child - some in wood and some in marble. All of them beautiful.
One of our most moving experiences today was the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The basilica houses a relic alleged to hold Christ's blood. Legend says is was collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought from the Holy Land by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders. There is no way to describe the feeling of standing in front of the vial and imagining that you might actually be seeing Christ's blood. Whether fact or fiction, the emotions are overwhelming. We are so humbled.
Our last full day in Bruges and we want to make the most of it. After another wonderful breakfast at Patisserie Prestige, we take a long walk to the edge of the city to see the last four remaining windmills. They are set along the canals at the far north eastern edge of old Bruges and it makes for a beautiful walk - both going and returning.
Added bonus: on the way to the windmills we pass a consignment shop and I am forced to enter! Barrie waits (patiently?) outside while I try on coats. Jackpot - I score a brown suede jacket for 20 Euros and a chunky orange necklace for another 5! I am happy and so very cool in my new jacket and necklace!
The trip that most tourists take on an overcrowded rental boat on the canals, we take by foot. As we walk the footpaths, we watch swans, walk past lovely old buildings, capture beautiful and unusual doors in pictures and make our way back to the town square from the windmills.
We find a little local restaurant serving authentic Belgium food and stop for lunch. Barrie has the pork cheeks with cherries - beautiful lean meat that has been cooked slowly and is wonderfully rich and meaty tasting. I have the asparagus with baked salmon. Asparagus seems to be on every menu here - cooked in various ways and with various other foods. We share two beers, after all this is Belgium! Once more - we are happy campers!
Morning of Day #5
We cannot leave today without a last breakfast at Prestige! By now we are greeted like friends. Also, we have learned there is more to the menu than we saw the first day and we can actually order a more sensible size meal. Barrie has a very British breakfast of boiled eggs and soldiers (pieces of toast). I have the Croque Monsieur just because I can!
We make a few last stops: Pandora for a charm representing Bruges (I pick a bell), a pancake with cherries (topped with ice cream) with coffee at noon, and a final melancholy walk back to our room to wait for the taxi that will take us to the train.
When the taxi arrives, we have a sweet young man who treks up the 30 stairs to get the biggest suitcase and carries it down to the car. He then strikes a deal with Barrie to drive us all the way to Brussels. By the time we add taxi fare to the Bruges train station, the train tickets, and then a taxi ride from the Brussels station to our hotel, we decide it is worth the few extra Euros and are ready to enjoy being driven to Brussels by him. What a great decision.
On the way we learn some interesting tidbits. He wants to go to the USA to visit "The World Trade Center". We explain to him that it is now called Freedom Tower and that there are fountains on the footprints of the original towers. He finds it all fascinating as he was so young when it happened. I find it fascinating that of all the places in the USA, this is where he wants to visit.
He speaks four languages. When children start school in Belgium, they learn French first. Then in a few years, they learn German, then another few years and they learn English. Flemish is their native language. We still have so far to go in the USA with teaching languages to our children. I never understand why we don't "get" the fact that we all need a second or third or fourth language.
Unfortunately, we also learn a dark side to Belgium. There is a lot of prejudice against persons of color. From this bright young man, we hear racist remarks that remind me of the culture of our country 50 years ago. He made it clear that "they" stayed on their side of town and the "whites" stayed on their side. The "blacks" included Africans, Middle Easterners, Chinese, Japanese and basically anyone not Aryan! Sounds way too familiar, doesn't it? In his world, he has a grandfather who started a business with one horse and carriage and built it into a firm with 20 trucks over the years. His grandfather now gets 600 EU a month from the government pension and foreigners coming into Belgium for the first time get assistance that is almost double that amount. We understand the angst, but it is not a matter of the skin color! Barrie sees the abuse of the system in the U.K. and even though we may think public assistance in the USA is out of control, it is nothing compared to what the European governments do.
Following is a diary entry on May 30, 1842 made by William Wordsworth Longfellow: "In the evening took the railway from Ghent to Bruges. Stopped at La Fleur de Blé attracted by the name, and found it a good hotel. It was not yet night; and I strolled through the fine old streets and felt myself a hundred years old. The chimes seemed to be ringing incessantly; and the air of repose and antiquity was delightful.… Oh, those chimes, those chimes! how deliciously they lull one to sleep! The little bells, with their clear, liquid notes, like the voices of boys in a choir, and the solemn bass of the great bell tolling in, like the voice of a friar!"
What a wonderful description of Bruges!
So we have left beautiful, storybook Bruges and after a 90 minute drive and a quick history lesson from a twenty something Belgian, we arrive in dirty, gritty Brussels. Our first impression: We should have stayed in Bruges! Stay tuned for our final decision!
Beautiful Bruges . . .