Sluis and the Sea

After spending four fantastic days in Bruges, we were starting to miss being on the bikes in the country. So we found a place to rent bikes for the day and set out for the Netherlands.

Sluis was only about 15 miles north of Bruges and a very beautiful bike ride next to the canals.

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We had lunch (waffles!) and walked around the town. They have a beautiful huge windmill right in the center of town. And on the outskirts, the battlements and the ruins of an old fort.

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After wandering around Sluis, which by the way is filled with sex shops because all the Belgians would come across the border to shop, we hopped back on the bike and decided to see if we could bike to the sea! It was about 10 miles away, and as we got closer the wind really picked up.

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The North Sea! And yes, it was cold! It was only about 75 degrees out and very windy, but people were sunbathing and many people were swimming in the water! I don’t think I could have gotten in without a wetsuit!

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It was kind of a grey, bleak day. But the beach was still beautiful. We had a picnic lunch and hopped back on the bikes to head home.

Once back in Bruges, we dropped off our bikes (good riddance, they were terrible rentals, I’m surprised they held up all day, every time I would hit a bump in the road the bell would ring!) and headed back to the hotel to shower and get ready for dinner.

In one of the main squares was this old man, all he was missing was a monkey!

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For dinner, again we consulted the Good Beer Guide Belgium, and found the Nieuw Museum. It was not a museum, but it was off in a quiet part of town and of course it had a good beer menu.

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I ordered the Noir de Dottignes by Brouwerij De Ranke of Wevelgem, Belgium, considered a Belgian Strong Dark Ale at 9% abv. 

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Poured very dark, dark toasted malts, raisins, cream, dark chocolate, coffee. In terms of alcohol content it’s a Strong Ale, but it almost tastes more like a stout. Thick and full bodied.

But the best part of the restaurant was that all the meat was cooked on an open fireplace in the center of the room. I ordered the steak and it was one of the best I’ve had so far in Belgium. I learned throughout my stay, that if you like your steak medium rare then you should order it rare. I feel like they all came back just a hair overcooked for my liking. Delicious though.

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The atmosphere was very cozy as well. The place was bustling, but we were seated right away. A nice mix of locals and tourists.

Pageant of the Golden Tree and Brasserie Erasmus

Every morning while in Bruges, ducks and swans would come by the windows. And yes, I fed them the rest of the baguette we didn’t finish from the day before! They were fun to watch but surprisingly vicious to one or two that the group seemed to single out.

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As we walked through town, we learned that there would be a parade later in the day. It seemed to be a big event, all of the shops were selling seating in front of their buildings.

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We found a shady spot and sat on the curb to wait.

The parade was called the Pageant of the Golden Tree and only occurs every five years. We had no idea what was going on since the parade was in Flemish. But luckily we had learned a bit about the history of Bruges to somewhat understand some of the scenes. Such as the chest with the ten keys and the fact that Belgium used to be a large fabric center. All of the floats were pulled by horses.

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The horses were huge! They weren’t Clydesdales, but a breed of horse called the Belgian Draft Horse.

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In all honesty this parade was just creepy. And the fact that we didn’t understand the significance of many of the floats and scenes surely didn’t help.

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Yep, a severed giant head.

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With all the horses they had men come through frequently and clean up all the poo. They got the most cheers.

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I wish I knew what was going on!

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But we do have a funny story about the sheep.

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Later in the day we went into a lace shop and were talking to the woman who owned the store. She was joking that her young son asked what all the yellow and green marks on the sheep’s butts were. Then she noticed the totally blank look on our faces. She blushed while she explained that its done for mating reasons. A balloon with die is broken when the sheep is properly mounted for breeding. She couldn’t believe that any adult didn’t know this. We really felt like city people.

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More odd and unexplained somewhat creepy costumes.

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Suddenly, the parade was over. Although it lasted about three hours. Every single native person in Bruges must have had a part!

For dinner, I consulted the Good Beer Guide Belgium to find another good beer bar in the area, we were not disappointed. We walked to Brasserie Erasmus for dinner and drinks.

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When initially scanning their beer list, I must admit I was disappointed, but I was invited in to choose a beer from the beer wall, and I was told there were many more downstairs. The had so many aged and cellared beers, Jack and I were having a hard time choosing.

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Excited with our selection, we went back outside to enjoy it. We got the Hibernus Quentum by De Leyerth Brouwerijen (Urthel) of Ruiselede, Belgium at 9% (?) abv.

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The bottle had been cellared since 2000! It was supposed to be a triple, but as you can see, it poured out with hints of amber, no carbonation, and an almost viscous, syrupy texture. This beer was now well over 9% abv.

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So smooth, honey, melon and pear, and almost peppery. Very boozy, almost drinks more like liquor than beer.

The manager was discussing with us how, since they are renovating their cellar, they were trying to sell and clear out as many beers as possible. We thought that sounded great, but he said he was having trouble selling their older beers. Apparently many people adhere strictly to the date printed on the bottle and don’t want anything that had “expired.” But he gave us 20% off on our beer, and if we didn’t get so drunk on our first and only beer of the night, we would have helped him clear out a few more.

Meandering Around Bruges

For our third day in Bruges, we decided to visit some of the classic tourist spots. After breakfast, we went to the Basilica of the Holy Blood.

The Basilica was built between 1134 to 1157. Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders is said to have brought back the blood of Christ which was collected by Joseph of Arimathea.

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The upper chapel is where the relic of the holy blood is kept.

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I had to get this stock photo of the relic from online since photos weren’t allowed. They also had in the museum all of the previous relic holders which ranged from small and somewhat plain to comically ornate.

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The chapel below is dedicated to St. Basil the Great.

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After leaving the wonderfully cool crypt, we went back to our hotel for a picnic lunch! We stopped by a few stores and put together a delicious lunch of sausage, warm baguette, cheese, fruit, and Gueuze!

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We picked up the Oude Gueuze by Hanssens Artisnaal of Dworp, Belgium at 6% abv.

A nearly perfect Gueuze! Small champagne bubbles, tart acidic sourness, earthy, and not a hint of hops. So refreshing for lunch in the shade!

After lunch, we went to the Groeninge Museum in the heart of Bruges. It was blissfully air-conditioned!

And I got to tick one more thing off my to-do list! I finally saw a piece of art by Hieronymus Bosch, The Last Judgement, painted in 1482. It was wonderfully creepy! There is so much going on in this painting, I could have easily stared at it for hours!

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After, we wandered the streets, and took in the city at dusk.

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On the outskirts of town we found four windmills!

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I believe they were originally built in 1770 and have been renovated and kept in working order.

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Since they were a mile or more from the city center there were no crowds. It was really peaceful. The only other people we saw were the local residents having picnics or playing lawn games.

Brouwerij De Halve Maan

The only brewery we had on our list to visit in Bruges was the Brouwerij De Halve Maan. One of my favorite beers is brewed by this brewery, Straffe Hendrik Quadruple. I was very excited to go for the tour!

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We signed up for the tour and while we waited we got a Bruges Zot Blonde, their signature beer.

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Hey, they collect bottles too! Although their collection is much more impressive than mine.

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And finally the tour started! Although, as excited as I was for this tour, I was highly disappointed with how crowded and packed it was. Gone were our little intimate tours when we were in West Flanders. This tour had 30+ people on it! Too crowded to thoroughly enjoy. And people brought screaming children too. Grrr.

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They no longer use any of the old equipment, although they hung on to it for the tours to show the evolution of their brewery and the brewing process.

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We did get to go quite a few places on the tour and through many rooms, we went up to the roof, and there were hundreds of stairs that we climbed! Some of them were quite steep and small.

After the tour, we headed back down to the tasting room and finally got the Straffe Hendrik Quadruple!

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One of my current favorite beers, made even more special since we got to taste it at the brewery! It was wonderful, not served too cold, very dark with dark fruits, currants, raisins, figs, slightly malty bitterness, molasses. Very complex and a treat to enjoy!

Once we left though, we got back out into the heat and the sunshine and our buzz hit us. We needed something to eat! Directly across the square we found a little restaurant that, of course, specialized in waffles!!

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Feeling full and on a sugar high we made it across town to the bell tower, The Belfort. It was getting very hot out, around 90 degrees and nowhere has air conditioning. But we were determined to climb the 366 stairs to the top.

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The Belfort was originally built in 1240 and the upper portion of the tower was built in the 1480s. It currently has 47 bells.

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In the mid levels of the bell tower, were other historic artifacts that gave you a bit better understanding of the history of Bruges. This chest was from the 1250s when the tower was built and had ten locks on it. The keys to the ten locks were distributed to prominent figures in the town, and the chest was only opened on special occasions and contained records and paperwork.

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I have to admit, at this point we were hot and tired of walking, so we went back to our hotel for a power nap.

After, we headed back out for drinks and dinner! Again, we had a specific beer bar in mind, ‘t Poatersgat, the monk’s hole.

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This place was great! It was so dark and cool compared to outside, and it had wonderful arched brick ceilings. We got there before the rush and so the whole bar was ours!

We ordered a few beers to get started, again, beers that we haven’t seen in the states. Like Moinette, a Belgian Strong Pale Ale by Brasserie Dupont of Tourpes, Belgium at 8.5% abv.

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And also the Oude Gueuze Beersel by Brouwerij Oud Beersel of Beersel, Belgium at 6% abv.

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The bartender was friendly and awesome and recommended we eat at De Hobbit if we were looking for hearty Belgian fare. And lucky for us we already knew where it was! It was directly across the street from ‘t Bruges Beertje, the bar we had visited the previous night. We had wanted to eat here the night before, but we ran into an American couple who had eaten there and told us it was terrible. I don’t know what they were thinking because it was delicious!! I got the steak.

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The menus were so cute too! They were written like news papers, with stories, excerpts, outdated advertisements, and wanted ads sprinkled in with the appetizers and entrees.

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Even though we were across from ‘t Bruges Beertje, I couldn’t do any more beer for the day, so sad, we went home and crashed in our food comas.

Arriving in Bruges

Our time in Poelkapelle came to an end, we regretfully said goodbye and took the train north to Bruges. We were a little put off at first because coming from the countryside to a city packed with tourists was overwhelming. But first we made it to our hotel, Hotel Ter Reien.

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We picked this place because it was perfectly situated on the canals!

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Our room was very tiny! And the bathroom was more like a bathroom you would find on a boat. Toilet/ sink/ shower all contained in the same area and meant to get wet. It was the smallest shower I’ve ever been in. After throwing out stuff down, and a quick change, we went out to explore the city!

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We had four days planned for Bruges but we got started right away with a boat ride of the canals. Props to the boat guide for doing it in four languages seamlessly.

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We got a beautiful view of the buildings and architecture, and some interesting stories to go along with it. Everything was just so old! People casually mentioned buildings built in 1500-1660s, and those buildings are still used and lived in!

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I cant imagine the upkeep, I also cant understand how they all don’t have flooded basements and soggy foundations.

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Afterwards, we meandered through the city on foot and began to learn our way around.

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For dinner, we did have a specific destination in mind, ‘t Bruges Beertje (The Bruges Bear) It’s a very well known beer bar, with a fantastic selection.

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Such a good bar! Tiny and long. Even at this early hour, maybe 5:00 the bar was full. We managed to find a table in the back. I immediately began scanning their beer selection for something I’ve never had before. Of course they had the popular and well known beers, but I wanted to try a beer that I hadn’t seen in the states.

I began the evening with the Prearis Quadruple by De Proef Brouwerij of Lochristi-Hijfte, Belgium at 10% abv.

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A very nice quadruple, dark fruits, molasses, a bit peppery, with a dry finish. I hope I get the chance to have this beer again someday!

Jack ordered the Basilius also by De Proef Brouwerij at 7% abv.

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Lighter bodied for a dark beer, candied sugar, caramel, apples and pears, Belgian yeasty funk. Fantastic and easy to drink.

And I got a picture with Daisy, the owner! She really knows her beers!

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The next two beers Jack and I both split since we wanted to sample more beers.

We got the Pannepot Reserva by DeStruise Brouwers of Oostvleteren, Belgium at 10% abv.

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Quite an impressive beer, very complex and full of flavor. Raisins and plums, woody oak, hints of vanilla and molasses, medium body, low to medium carbonation. One of the best beers I’ve had in Belgium so far.

And we also got the Vichtenaar to split by Brouwerij Verhaeghe of Vichte, Belgium at 5.1% abv, We chose this beer because they also brew the Duchess de Burgogne, which I love.

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The Vichtenaar  is also a Flanders Red, they must specialize in this style. Not quite as extreme as the Duchess, very drinkable. A sour ale, tart, lightly fruity, brown sugar, honey.

A little tipsy we made our way back to the hotel through the streets of Bruges. Bruges by night is breathtaking.

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The reflections of the buildings in the water made it quite picturesque, especially now that the boats stopped running and the water was perfectly still.

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Cheers!

Belgian History Day

Our last day in West Flanders was spent biking around the countryside seeing World War I cemeteries and museums.

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It was a beautiful day, and their cemeteries are gorgeous. They are meticulously cared for and very well kept. The grass was the most perfect lush green carpet I’ve ever seen. It made me want to take off my shoes and run around barefoot!

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We did not see any American graves though because by the time the US entered the war, the front had moved further south into France.

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Later we biked to the Memorial Museum Passchendaele in Zonnebeke. We had brought a picnic lunch and ate by the lake.

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Feeling quite refreshed we headed inside to learn more about the war in Belgium.

(I took this picture especially for Liz!). I was surprised to realize that horses were used in WW I. It wasn’t something I had thought about before.

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I also learned that chemical warfare was first used in WW I. The information provided at the museum was very vivid and painted a horrible picture of what life would have been in the trenches. It was amazing to see that evolution of gas masks, this room really creeped me out though.

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The best part of the museum was the downstairs. They had replica trenches and bunkers that you could walk through and see different scenes. The communication room, the pump room, the bunk room, the mess hall. Unfortunately the lighting was very dim and my little point and shoot camera just couldn’t capture the moment and do it justice, unfortunately there are no pictures. But they also had flickering lights, the sound of water trickling, and gunfire. I hardly wanted to go down into them, so I cant even begin to imagine how terrifying the real thing was.

After we emerged into the sunny day once more, we were off on the bikes again to Ieper and saw Menin Gate.

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Menin Gate was built by the British government and dedicated to the British soldiers and the unknown missing soldiers with no graves who were killed in the Ypres Salient during the war. It was built in 1927 and is situated at the eastern exit of the town by which the soldiers would have had to leave to get to the front line.

The sheer number of names that cover the inside of the memorial is overwhelming.

Since we were in town, we decided to find a place to eat.

I have to admit, I did have a bad beer on the trip. It was disappointing. On the menu it merely said Gueuze and didn’t mention a brewer. But we had had tons of gueuze by this time and it was all fantastic, so I thought it would be a good choice. Wrong!

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How can they call this a gueuze?? Very boring, not complex, hardly sour, acetic. Some sugary sweetness that was probably added later. You can taste too much of the pilsner malts used. Oh yeah, and its InBev. Enough said. I would definitely avoid this beer in the future.

Anyway, after dinner while walking around town, we noticed the sky was becoming menacing. We still had a good bike ride ahead of us so we began to furiously pedal back. The winds were picking up and bits were beginning to be blown in our eyes. We did stop long enough to grab this next picture, but we didn’t even go in to walk around because droplets were beginning to fall.

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Check out that sky. We really hauled ass to make it home before the sky exploded. Too bad though, we got a quick glimpse of a traditional windmill that I would have loved to see if it had been nicer.

But we made it home mostly dry, minus a few sprinkles.