Last day in Bruges

Our last full day in Bruges and we have some items that still need to be checked off our list.  We eat a light breakfast and then head out.

When we were walking out of our street, we could hear a commotion in the Grote Markt or Grand Square.  It turned out today is market day.  The entire square is loaded with vendors of every kind and lots of people there to make purchases.  Very colorful and the smells filling the air were delightful – not that I didn’t think the horses were also wonderful.

We waded into the crowds to have a peek.  There were vendors selling beautiful flowers, baked goods, fruits and vegetables, cheese and sausages.  Others were selling cooked rotisserie chicken, wine, candy, meats and waffles.

Belgian Waffles?  Those are on todays list, so we stopped.

Rather than filling ourselves up, we asked for an order of baby waffles.  Same great waffles, just smaller sized.  They were delicious – crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and warm.  We had ours with just a sprinkle of powdered sugar.  Others opted for Nutella or fruit sauce and everyone seemed to enjoy them.

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Our baby waffles – time to dig in.

Exiting market square, we headed to find another culinary treat – Belgian Chocolate.  We have heard that one of the best makers  is Dumon Chocolatier.  We turned a corner and there was the shop – but it was closed.  Luckily, I knew that they had another shop in town – we just had to find it.

We passed some shops that had great old-styled signs out front.

 

As lunch time was drawing near, we were zeroing in on a place to try the mussels and frites.  We passed by one or two restaurants that showed them on the menu, but we continued walking.

And then we saw it – the other Dumon Chocolate shop.  We wandered in and it smelled like I would expect Chocolate Heaven to smell.  I restrained myself and we bought just a few pieces of chocolate with nuts and raisins. Mmmm…

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As it was warm, we thought it would be best to take the chocolate back to the room.  While walking, we found our lunch place – Poules Moules.  Pretty easy to guess their specialty from their name.  A quick stop at the room and back we went.

We both had the moules and frites.  They have a few choices for preparation and a few sauces you can add.  We went with the moules cooked in white wine.  So we were able to cross off another item from our list – moules and frites with Belgian beer.

I don’t know if you can tell from the photos, but a portion is five dozen moules.  By the time we finished we needed to walk them off and then rest for a while.  Luckily dinner is not until 8:00 pm tonight.

We not only rested, but actually snoozed for a little while.  Full tummies and beer will do that to you.

Our last dinner in Bruges would be at a restaurant called – “Le Chef et Moi”.  Google maps says it is a one minute walk from our hotel.  We’re old – it took us three minutes.  The restaurant is in a beautiful building and is owned by a husband and wife.  He is the chef, she runs the the front and serves.

We both selected the Chef’s menu – it consisted of a half-lobster, delicious cod with pasta, cheesecake for me and a caramel flan for Sue.  Everything was wonderful!  Truthfully, it was a steal, too.  They could probably raise the price of the Chef’s menu by 10€ and it would still be priced reasonably.

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Afterwards, we took a nice walk back and enjoyed the canal views one last time.  We leave tomorrow and we are SO glad that we didn’t make Bruges a day trip from Amsterdam as some websites suggested.

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Enjoying the day in Bruge

If I told you I woke up before the alarm at 6:50 am, would you even believe me ?!?

It’s true!  We were showered and ready for breakfast early today.  Enjoyed a hearty breakfast and then headed out for a walk.  Today we headed in the other direction, away from the main square towards the Burg Square.

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Tucked away in the corner is ‘The Basilica of the Holy Blood’.  It is a Roman Catholic basilica and a major landmark in the city. The building dates back to the 12th century and is said to have a relic of Jesus – two drops of his blood.

Next to the basilica was the city hall.  Very interesting architecture and carvings on the facade.

Next to the city hall is the court of justice.  We loved the city mascot – a bear that we named Charlie – because we could.

Exiting the Burg Square, we started walking along the canal. The scenery was gorgeous!  Houses and gardens basking in the sunshine with the canal flowing peacefully.  Cutting back through the town, we saw a guy maneuvering the cool red car out of a garage.  Eventually we found one of the original gates, which just so happened to lead back to our hotel.

After our walk, we freshened up a bit for our afternoon High Tea. It was a beautiful day to sit on the patio and just enjoy ourselves. We started off with a glass of champagne followed by our tea.  We chose a nice green tea rather than going with Earl Gray.  Next came the rack of goodies.  The bottom layer held the finger sandwiches – king crab, egg salad and cucumber sandwiches.  The second layer was homemade scones with clotted cream and jam.  The top tier was various sweets – macaroons, cake, mousse and berries.  It was a fun “snack” fit for a queen.

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Feeling full and a little warm, we retreated to our room to relax for a little while.  Some reading, some music and some creative writing took us to dinner time.

Tonight dinner is at a restaurant called – ‘Quatre Mains’.  It’s a tapas restaurant that was recommended by one of the staff at the hotel.  When we asked her to make reservations for us, she guided us away from another place as being “not so good for us”.

The restaurant was cute, busy and filled with all locals.  We started with our kir royals, and then at our server’s suggestion, we went with four plates to share and a bottle of  Sancerre rose.

Our four plates were: Cheese croquettes, Iberian ham with tomato bread, Cod with tomatoes, tarragon and green onions and then roasted pork cheeks prepared similar to a Shepherd’s Pie with mashed potatoes.  Our fifth plate was a shared Creme brûlée.  Everything was delicious and prices were very reasonable.

We took a nice walk back to the hotel and digested our meals before heading to bed.

 

 

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Visiting Beautiful Bruges

We both woke up early after a good night’s sleep.  After the little bit of walking around last evening, we were excited to explore the town.  The hotel’s breakfast provided many choices and we found out that everything is homemade.  Suffice to say, we both enjoyed a hearty breakfast.

Since the maid was working in our room, we decided to go for a little walk.  We ended up  taking some pictures and then a canal boat ride.  Being earlier or pre day-trippers, the boat wasn’t jam packed and provided for a nice tour.

Funny item, when we were boarding the boat there was a young Japanese couple already on.  When I hopped into the boat and sat on the same side as them, the boat rocked a little and they were giggling nervously like we were going to tip.  For a brief moment I felt like Godzilla.

Anyways, the boat ride was really nice.  Each ride lasts about 35 minutes and you cover a good amount of ground.  The captain provides commentary and points out the highlights of Bruges in an entertaining manner.  Below are some pictures from our journey.

Walking back to the hotel, we stopped by a place that they call the beer wall.  There are 1,100 different beers made throughout Belgium and they have the majority of them available and on display.  We browsed the display picking out some of our favorite labels.

We had to make a stop back at the hotel to grab our sunglasses and to slather on some sunscreen before going for a walk.  We walked along the canal and headed for the Church of Our Lady.  It was built in the fifteenth century, took two centuries to complete and has a bell tower that is 122 meters tall.  It has beautiful stained-glass windows and contains many artistic treasures highlighted by the only sculpture by Michaelangelo that left Italy during his lifetime.  It is a statue carved in 1504 that is the Madonna and Child.

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Michaelangelo’s Madonna and Child.

Leaving the church, we continued our walk under skies that we will remember as being “Bruges blue”. We wound our way along the canal passing by quaint little bridges and houses.  Every few minutes another boat would cruise by loaded with camera-wielding passengers.

Sue and I were thinking about digging canals between the retainage ponds back home and giving people tours of the neighborhood.  Our HOA probably wouldn’t approve it without getting a cut of the profits, so that idea bubble has been officially burst!

Upon returning to the hotel, it was time for drinks on the patio and a little people watching.  The drinks were glasses of champagne and the people watching was at the expense of those lining up for the afternoon boat rides.

Heading upstairs, we just chilled in the room and listened to Helmut Lotti tunes for a while.  Since he is Belgian, we hoped there was a chance that he might have a concert while we were here.  Unfortunately, we found out he actually lives in Germany these days.

Dinner tonight was at Restaurant Couvert.  It was literally a three minute walk from the hotel and that’s because we walk slow.  It is a wonderful restaurant and was recommended by many people.  We selected the tasting menu with the wine pairings.  We now know why people recommend the restaurant.  Everything was delicious!  We had a starter of smoked salmon, followed by dorade fish, then a main of roast veal and vegetable medley and dessert was a watermelon and strawberry mix with a mint chiffonade.  The paired wines went well with the courses.

Before heading back to the hotel, we took a little night walk and took some pictures.

All in all it was a beautiful first day in Bruges.  I can see why people say it is like a fairy tale city.  It has a little of everything for travelers – historic buildings, canals and boat rides, beautiful architecture, delicious food and friendly people.

 

 

 

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From Paris to Bruges

Still can’t believe it’s time to move on from Paris.  The time seemed to go so fast.  We had a wonderful time and can’t wait to return.

We’re taking the Thalys train to Belgium, so we’ll be leaving from Gare Nord.  We checked out and grabbed a taxi from the taxi stand in front of the hotel.  With no traffic at all, we arrived at the station in ten minutes.  Had we known it would be that quick, we could have waited another forty-five minutes.

The usual assortment of undesirables could be found from the minute we arrived; most just asking for money, while there were others that looked like pickpockets.  We had some time to kill, so we were just hanging out when we noticed a group of soldiers.  Next thing you know, the station was being evacuated.  Apparently, there was an unattended bag near the Aerostar lines that was deemed suspicious.

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Everyone waiting after being evacuated

My guess is just a Brit who walked away for a smoke.  Don’t know what they did, but about twenty minutes later they let everyone back in. We couldn’t help but wonder if the police blew the bloke’s clothes to bits.

So much for the excitement.  Our train ended up leaving close to a half-hour late, which meant we missed our connection in Brussels.  The good news is there is a train from Brussels to Bruges every hour.

The Brussels train station is pretty big and just a little confusing.  We walked to where we thought we needed to go, but couldn’t find a sign for our train.  We ended up asking at the info window and the gentleman pointed us right to our train.  We were in the right place, just didn’t realize the train before ours hadn’t left yet.

The ride from Brussels to Bruges takes about an hour and there are two stops before you arrive in Bruge.  The station in Bruges is medium sized – I think we counted eight tracks.  It took us ten minutes from getting off the train to getting into a cab.

Our Taxi driver was very nice.  A right proper ambassador for the city.  We laughed together all the way to the hotel – especially noting all the Beer tasting signs.  The fare was a flat €7.00 to the center of town.

Our hotel is called the Hotel de Orangerie and it is beautiful.  It’s located right on the canal and is only a two minute walk to Markt Square.

Our room is gorgeous and overlooks the canal.  It has a large, comfortable bed, two big windows that open, two big easy chairs, a desk, big bathroom and there is even a fireplace that works in the winter months.  There are plenty of outlets and lights in the room too!

We relaxed in the room until dinner time.  It is really cozy and feels like home.

Dinner tonight was at the Belgian Pigeon House.  We were seated in an arched-ceiling basement dining room.  Our server was a very nice older man, soft spoken and friendly.  Besides our Kir Royals, we had a bottle of red wine from the Langnuedoc region.  Sue started with an order of croquettes and I had white asparagus in a balsamic reduction.  For our mains, we both had the house specialty – roast pigeon.  To finish, we shared a warm apple tart with vanilla ice cream.  Everything was delicious!  In case you’re wondering, the pigeon tasted like dark meat chicken and the breast meat had a rich taste.

When we went up and paid, we talked to the owner for a bit.  She invited Sue into the kitchen and showed her their josner oven, which was charcoal fired and perfect for cooking the birds.  She then told us about the restoration they had done on the building and how they won an award for the authenticity.  Next thing you know she was ushering us upstairs to see what they did.  I was afraid she was trying to sell it to us; good thing I had the credit card.

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After warm hugs, we headed out and back to the hotel.  The night skies were perfect for a few pictures along the way.

Our first impressions of Bruges were “what a charming town”.  Can’t wait to explore tomorrow.

 

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Our last day in Paris

Woke up to a beautiful sunny day.  Cleaned up and went down to breakfast.  It’s hard to believe that this is our last day in Paris.

Since we still had time left on our tickets, we walked back to Notre Dame and hopped on the batobus.  We decided to do a circuit just to see the sites one last time.  Definitely getting our money’s worth with these tickets.  The boats are pretty full today.  Each stop sees many people getting off and on.  Even though it’s early afternoon, it’s pretty warm out.  We make sure we stay in the shade as much as possible.

When the boat returns to the Notre Dame stop, we hop off and take a little walk.  Our first stop is at Shakespeare & Company.  It’s a bookstore that has been around for years.  Apparently lots of others want to see it too – there is a long line and security only allows a limited number of people in at one time.  We decide to take a few pictures and then move along.

Our next stop was at Pont Neuf.  We took the stairs down to the water level to find a historic marker.  This was the spot where the last Templar Grandmaster – Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake by order of King Philip IV on 18 March 1314.  A plaque on the wall commemorates the event.

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It was definitely getting hotter and more crowded, so we decided to head back to the hotel to rest up before dinner.  The a/c in the hotel was a welcomed relief from the heat outside.  We relaxed and I worked on the blog until it was time to clean up for dinner.

Dinner tonight is at a restaurant named ‘Cézembre’.  We’re looking forward to trying it out as we’ve heard good things about it.  We arrived a few minutes early and the guy from Zorba Greek restaurant tried to convince us to eat there.  He seemed a little put out that we weren’t interested until we said “next time’.

Dinner here is another Chef’s choice menu.  It was five courses, plus an amuse-bouche and mini cakes at the end.  Instead of the wine pairing menu, we went with a bottle of Domaine Gérard Deplessis “Le Clos” Chablis.  The first four courses paired well with the wine – we had dishes that included langoustines, cod, artichokes, squash and mushrooms.  For the final course, which was roasted lamb, the waiter brought us a glass of red wine from the Languedoc, saying we needed red wine with lamb.  Dessert was next, followed by some mini-Madelines and mini-chocolate lava cakes.  Cézembre exceeded our expectations and was another wonderful dining experience at a very reasonable price.

Another beautiful night’s stroll back to the hotel.  We leave in the morning so we wanted to get a good night’s sleep.

 

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Musée d’Orsay on Friday

Another beautiful day in Paris.  Sunny, but not overly warm and blue skies.  We had a good breakfast – like we have had every day – and then set out.

So after Wednesday’s loss of patience at the Louvre, I was hoping to rebound at the Musée d’Orsay.  As we’ve discussed previously, I don’t study art, I don’t care about brush technique and I’m not an Artist groupie.  I’m basically a ‘PPP’ – pretty picture person.  It has to appeal to me visually or I’m on to the next one.  So let’s see how this works out.

The Musée d’Orsay, now also known as “Le MO”, is just a ten minute walk from our hotel.  If you don’t know the story, it was previously a train station that was repurposed as an art gallery.   You can really tell it was a train station from the facade and from the grand hall when you enter.

Our strategy was to start at the top floor and work our way down.  The top or fifth floor contains most of the impressionist and neo-impressionist works by artists like Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Cézanne, Degas and Pissarro.  From there we worked our way down and finished with the various sculptures.

Our strategy worked as we enjoyed ourselves in the gallery.  Many beautiful artworks with a smaller crowd made for a great visit.

After “Le MO”, we walked down to the Seine and bought tickets for the Batobus.  The batobus is a Hop-on / Hop-off boat with about ten stops between the Eiffel Tower and the Jardin du Plantes.  The Herkey version is Hop-on / Stay-on as we just enjoyed being on the river and enjoying the sites.  We road for a complete circuit before heading back to the hotel.  The price is €17 and the ticket is good for 24 hours.

We had a little time before having to clean up for dinner and it was nice to relax.  I haven’t walked this much since last year, so my tootsies are feeling a little sore.

Anyway, dinner tonight is at a restaurant called ‘Cinq Mars’.  It’s about a ten minute walk from the hotel, actually right behind the Musée d’Orsay.  It’s another smaller place that’s supposed to have really good food.

We started with our Kir Royals and then our starters were a cucumber salad with goat cheese for me and a delicious homemade terrine for Sue.  They actually brought over the whole dish so she could take as much as she wanted.  Our main plates were both fish.  Sue had a roasted turbot with a huge helping of spinach, while I had a roasted sea bream with asparagus and an artichoke purée.  Dessert was a rhubarb clafoutis for Sue and Creme caramel for me.  A nice bottle of white Bourgogne went down awfully easy.  Prices were reasonable and the service was very good.

‘We had a nice stroll back to the hotel and relaxed for the remainder of the evening.

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Tourists in Paris to celebrate summer

With nothing on our agenda until dinner, we decided to be tourists for the day.  What a wonderful way to bring in the first day of summer.  We strolled down to Notre Dame and from there we caught the Hop-on / Hop-off bus.  It was a beautiful day – plenty of sunshine and not too warm.  We were able to switch buses and ended up taking two of the three routes that they cover.

There were plenty of people around town today.  The major sites like Notre Dame, Les Invalides, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe were all packed with people,  but all the parks and gardens were full too.  As you might guess, there was a lot of traffic on the roads that slowed us down to a crawl at times.  It was good for picture taking though!

All-in-all, it was really a great way to see most of the iconic monuments without walking our legs off.  While we did end up with a little sunburn, the fresh air and beautiful sites totally offset our red noses.  I have some pictures to share, but you should really play some French music or at least sing “Frères Jacques” while viewing them.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Les Deux Magots for a bit of lunch and some wine.  We had a nice bottle of Rosé Sancerre along with a croque monsieur for me and Sue had warm cheese with toasted Poliane made bread.  Everything was delicious and the people watching was awesome.

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Today is also a special day in France.  Each year they celebrate the return of summer with the “Fetes de Musique” throughout the country.  There are concerts and performances throughout the city here in Paris, plus there are impromptu concerts in various locations.  Hopefully we will find an accordionist or two to celebrate with.

Before heading back to the room, we made one quick stop.  That stop was at the Alain Ducasse Chocolate shop.  I’d tell you how much I want to share them with you, but they’re gone.  They were delicious though.

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Dinner was at the Jazz Club Chez Papa.  It’s just down the street from our hotel and is a decent restaurant with live jazz music.  The club is kind of funky.  People have scratched or written their names everywhere on the beams, the walls and even the ceiling.  Some of the all-time jazz greats have performed there.

Tonight we would be entertained by a talented woman named Leslie.  She was accompanied by a piano and upright bass.   She had a wonderful voice and the musicians were terrific too!

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‘We were seated so close the piano player could have spun around and joined us for dinner.  It was really cool.

During their first break the bass player stopped over to say hello.  We were able to chat for a few minutes and we found out that he was originally from the Bronx.  After he left us, the singer stopped by to see if we were enjoying the show.  She was very pleasant to chat with and told us that the piano player is her husband and that they sold it all in California and moved to Paris.  I can’t remember her last name, sorry Leslie, but I’ll note it later if I can find it.

So dinner was good, but not great.  I had a salad of buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes and Sue had warm goat cheese and toast points as a starter.  We both had grilled prawns as our main and then I had a Creme caramel and Sue shared it with me.

We left after the second set having enjoyed our evening.  On the way out we got a wave and a “Goodnight Buffalo” from the bass player.

On the walk home, we came upon one of those impromptu concerts just outside of St. Germain des Pres church.  We stuck around for a few songs before feeling a little chilly, so back to the hotel we went.  With the windows cracked, we could hear the music in our room.

After a little while we both got tired, so off to dreamland.

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