December 11, 2009

Brugge - The Venice of The North

When I was here in January 2009, Stijn had told me about Brugge and how many consider it the "Venice of the North". So because of the numerous canals that intersect throughout this coastal medieval city, this is of course someplace I must see!

After our walk in Oostende this morning (Nov 1) we take the 30 minute drive to Brugge. I'm going to pass on to you a little piece of information you might want to consider when you come to see Brugge. Parking can be next to impossible in the old center, so with the advice of Stijn's father, we parked at the train station, then walked over to the cashier and showed her our parking ticket, she then handed us two free round trip bus tickets. What's great about this is that not only do you not have to fight for a parking space, but the bus makes several stops within the old center.

We choose to start our day by getting off of the bus in the Grote Markt (Market Square). Here is where I am immediately in mouth dropping awe of the fantastic architecture, the cobbled streets, the horse drawn carriages.....Oh My Gosh! The picture you see above is the "Belfry Tower and Cloth Hall" which dominates this square.

As we make our way to find where we can get on one of the many boat rides through the canals, we walk into yet another square "The Burg" the heart of the administrative Bruges. In this square is the magnificent Town Hall.
And directly to the left is the "Civil Registry"

Regarding the weather, nothing much has changed since our walk this morning in Oostende, except for the fact that the grey skies are getting darker and a light rain is beginning to fall. We MUST find those canal rides! But you know me, I have to keep stopping and taking pictures. This of course allows time for more rain to fall. So we decide to take a look in several shops. The one I enjoyed the most, and I think most of you would too, was the store, 2be. This was a great shop full of the most extensive collection of Belgian beers I have ever seen. This shop had several different rooms with beer bottles stacked from floor to ceiling. We even took a peek at the beers located downstairs in the cellar. Of course there were lots of other items, like cookies, candies, and gifts. Adjoining 2be was a cute little terrace where you could sit and have a bite to eat along with your choice of beer overlooking one of the many canals. For us though, it's a bit too rainy now, so we opt for some indoor dining.

We make our way through the cobbled streets, ducking under canopies to try and stay dry, in search of the perfect place to have lunch. And then there it is! "Curiosa".

A small narrow staircase leads us down to a heavy timbered door where you enter into a small room filled with wooden tables and chairs set beneath a plaster and brick arch ceiling. Tucked to one side is a beautiful bar wrapped in old brick.

We ordered something nice and hot to help warm us up after walking a few hours out in the cold and rain. For me, I had this great seafood casserole called "Gratinated Fishpot" and Stijn ordered up a grilled filet steak with mixed vegetables and the standard side dish of fries. And of course we complimented our meals with a great Belgian beer.

After lunch we headed back out in the rain and continued walking through the cobblestone streets of Brugge. But first, right across the street is this wonderful Belgian chocolate shop!

Since I've been coming to Belgium, I have had my fair share of Belgian chocolate, so Stijn introduces me to a popular candy with the Belgian's....Cuberdons or as the Belgians affectionately call them, neuseke (small nose)! These are a great cone shaped candy about 1 inch tall, that come in many flavors and are filled with a sugary jelly like filling. We chose the purple ones that tasted like grapes.

We've decided that today was just not the day to take a boat ride through the canals of Brugge. There are really so many beautiful sights to see in Brugge that missing out on a canal ride didn't really disappointment me at all. Besides, while walking I could take my time and peer in the windows of shops, take pictures along the canals of the great little wooden houses and walk over a few of the many bridges that cross over the canals. When we came upon the "Bonifacius Bridge" that is situated between Gruuthuse and Arentshof, it was definitely a Kodak moment.

As we crossed over the bridge, Stijn had me look up to see what is said to be the "Smallest Window" in Brugge.

Brugge really has so much more to see and do, but I think it's time to come in from the rain. What do you think?

If you would like to see more pictures of our day in Brugge, just go to "Where's Debbie" and click on the album "Brugge"

December 9, 2009

A Morning Walk In Oostende

After watching the victory game of Club Brugge last night we drove to Oostende to spend the night. Oostende is the largest coastal town in Belgium.

Our plan today (Nov 1) is to take a walk along the beach before heading back over to Brugge to spend the day. We are staying at Hotel die Prince and it is right in front of the beach! We of course have a room with a view of the lower roof and the rooms across from us. Not the view we were hoping for, but a view none the less. After we have breakfast in the hotel we bundle up to prepare for our walk.

I was so excited to see the waves of the North Sea rolling in as we stepped out the front door of our hotel! It is a day with no sunshine, grey skies, and a light wind. But that's not stopping me, I see a Lighthouse up ahead!

As we continue to walk we see an open air fresh fish market and must stop in to have a look. And what better place to get the catch of the day then from a market on the beach!

Now if you're not into fresh fish you could certainly get yourself some prepared seafood dishes or some dried fish that is hanging from the canopies of the kiosks that line the waterfront.

We made our way to the Mercator Marina and got a close up look of the "Mercator Ship"

The Mercator was built in 1931 and was used by the Belgian Navy until 1960. Now it is a floating museum and tours are available, but we chose to save this for another day and continue our walk through the shopping street while making our way back to our hotel.

I just love the shopping streets of Europe! These are streets where no vehicles are allowed! They are also a shopaholics dream. Walking along cobblestone streets passing stores selling clothing, housewares, flowers, chocolates, pastries! And no shopping street is complete without the "Golden Arches"!

You know the day is going to be a great one when you can start with a walk on the beach!

Next stop, Brugge.

You can see more pictures of our walk by going to "Where's Debbie" and click on the album "Oostende"

November 11, 2009

Trick or Treat?

It's October 31, Halloween Night and I'm not handing out candy. Tonight I get to watch my first professional football game in Europe!

But not just any team is playing tonight. Stijn's favorite team Club Brugge is playing on their home field against Sint-Truiden in Brugge.

Stijn insists that I look like a true Club Brugge die hard fan. So we head on over to the official souvenir shop and he buys me the traditional blue and white strip Club Brugge scarf. Cool! I blend right in now.

Okay, where is the snack bar so I can get a hot dog! Well I'm in Europe so no hot dogs here. We take a walk around the outside of the stadium and choose one of the vendors who is selling some sausages. Mmmm the garlic one sounds good and certainly looks more appetizing then the food booth selling whole dried fish. Then we get some french fries and of course a couple of nice cold beers!!

We find our seats and settle in for the big game. Stijn is such a cool guy, he bought our tickets so that we would be sitting right with the biggest fans of this team. I don't know what was more fun, watching the game or watching the fans go crazy and hear them singing their chants to cheer on the team.
These were your typical sports enthusiasts yelling, screaming and singing for their team. And although I couldn't understand a thing they were saying, there was one thing that I did understand...... "I'm Lov'in It"!

There was a lot of great action, but neither team could seem to make a goal during the first half of the game. And then it happens. Club Brugge scores in the second half and wins the game 1-0! And the crowd goes wild!!!

I will never forget this experience and the fun I had watching a professional football game for the first time. So for me, this was definitely a Treat!

There are more pictures of the game at "Where's Debbie". Just click on the album "Club Brugge"

November 10, 2009

Good Times, Good Food and Good Friends!

When I was in Brussels this past January, I had the pleasure of meeting Stijn's roommate, Stijn (yes, they have the same name) and his girlfriend Birgit.

Birgit thought that I would really enjoy a Belgian home cooked meal and asked Stijn if we would like to have dinner together tonight (Oct 28). GREAT! So plans are made and Birgit prepares a great Salmon quiche.

Now all of this might not sound very special or interesting to you, but for me it was a very special evening. It seems that Stijn and Birgit had planned this to be a celebration of my birthday and presented me with some gifts.

You must understand that these gifts are very special to me because they are from the town of Ieper. I fell in love with Ieper when Stijn had taken me there this past January. But what really made the gifts special is that Birgit is from Ieper! Plus she did her homework and added a special thoughtfulness to my gifts. In my special package was a magnet of Ieper knowing that I love to collect magnets and that I didn't get one when I was there. Also knowing that I love special items of the region, she included a little bottle of Jenever, a poppy liqueur. But the item that touched me the most was the Belgian chocolate bar with a scripture that was written by Major John McCrae in 1915 called "Flanders' Fields", which I think deserves to be shared with everyone who reads this blog.

"Flanders' Fields"

In Flanders' fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The Larks, still bravely singing, fly scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead.
Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders' fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders' fields.

You see, Ieper was in the middle of the front line between the German and Allied Armies and was destroyed in WWI (The Great War). It is now one of the most beautiful little villages in West Flanders. But this village has not forgotten it's past and the "Menen Gate" is where the names of 54,896 soldiers are engraved, who lost their lives during this horrible war and have no known grave.

To be able to share good times with good friends is a special evening I will never forget!

November 8, 2009

A Belgian Style Birthday

Today is my birthday (Oct 27) and Stijn has asked where I would like to have dinner to celebrate. Well that's an easy answer. I want some traditional Belgian food! So in true Stijn fashion, he carefully decides on a restaurant that not only meets this requirement but also has a great atmosphere.

We arrive at "Au Fin de Siecle" , which means "The End of the Century",

Once we enter I can see the name is very fitting. It seems as if I have stepped back in time with the high ceilings and the all wood bar set to one side of the room.

We pick our spot in the long and narrow room filled with wooden tables and chairs all positioned very close together in true European style.

One of the many things I loved about this restaurant was that there were no menus. We had to walk up to the bar and make our choices from a huge chalk board where tonight's menu is hand written.

We then head back to our table and our waiter comes to take our order. So what does one have as a traditional Belgian dish for her birthday? "Lapin a la Kriek". That would be rabbit served with a sauce made with the Cherry Belgian beer, Kriek.

Stijn has the "Jambonneau Moutarde a' L Ancienne". Which translates to Ham on bone in mustard sauce in the traditional way.

Special note here; This is the fastest I have ever been served a meal!

It's a beautiful night, so after dinner as we take a walk through the narrow cobbled streets of Brussels we come upon this great place called "Le Crachin" where they serve nothing but crepes! It's time for dessert, right? This tiny little place was also very narrow with a view of the kitchen at the back. They also had two huge chalk boards with the menu of drinks and crepes, one in French and one in Dutch.

I decide on the "Pommes caramelisees, flambee au Grand Marnier".

Mmmmm! Apples caramelized and flambayed with Grand Marnier is much better than a birthday cake!

And then Stijn says I have a couple of more birthday surprises to come this week. Hmmm, wonder what they could be?

To see more pictures of our night click here on "Where's Debbie" and then click on the album "Belgian Style Birthday"

November 7, 2009

Koppenbergcross - A Cycle Race Belgian Style

Knowing that I like to cycle, Stijn knew I would really enjoy watching a sport that is very popular here in Belgium.

So today (Oct 25th) we are headed out to Oudenaarde to watch the Koppenbergcross Cycle Race 2009!

First a little information you might find interesting. Like what does Koppenberg mean besides a steep hill in Belgium? Well in Dutch it means "Heading Mount", and is a 77m (253 feet) high 600m (1969 feet) long hill in Oudenaarde. And this is where the cyclist do 8 laps in a race to the finish.
What really makes this race so much fun to watch is that typically the participants are trying to race in the mud. But today it is clear skies and dry.

But for me this was still a very exciting race to see. Now I have done some cycling myself and the one I am most proud of was participating in the "Seattle to Portland" ride twice. But I would never, I mean never, attempt anything like this. To see some of these guys have to get off of their bike and carry it up the hill, tells me I'm just happy to watch.

I do love riding downhill though. But there's just something about a slippery dirt 22% grade that just doesn't appeal to me at all.

It seems though that the cows didn't find this very interesting at all.

We have been here about 4 hours now and I have been dying to have a Bratwurst! So I head on over to one of the vendors and enjoy the views while I'm standing in line.

I am always on the look out for potty facilities. So I start scanning the area to see where that brightly colored row of port-a-potties might be.

Ummm this isn't exactly the Honey Pot I was looking for.....

As we leave the race and I look back up towards the route of this race, I thank Stijn for an absolutely fascinating day.

There are plenty of more pictures of the race on "Where's Debbie". Just click on the album "Koppenbergcross"

November 5, 2009

Volleyball In Belgium

My first day in Belgium was certainly a busy one yesterday. So it was nice to just be able to relax today before Stijn's volleyball game tonight.

To be able to watch Stijn play volleyball is a real treat for me. He has played for several years and I've only been able to hear about the games for the past year.

It's 6:00pm and game time! We are Rokavo and we are playing against Beerlanders Beernem.

Way to get after that ball!

And we win that one!

But in the end Beerlanders Beernem beat us 3-2.

Tomorrow is another big day. We are headed to Oudenaarde for the Koppenbergcross Cycle Race 2009!

To see more pictures of the game just click here "Where's Debbie" and then click on the album "Volleyball in Belgium"

Back To Belgium

It seems time goes by so slowly and then before you know it, time is up!

I am finally back in Belgium! I haven't been here since this past January. (you can read about that trip on my older posts "Europe In 30 Days").

Why am I so excited? Because Belgium is where my honey lives, Stijn, and I haven't seen him since this past June/July when he was visiting me in Las Vegas.

And now the story begins on Oct 23 when I land in Brussels at 8:05am and we hit the ground running!

Stijn has a volleyball game on Saturday, so after freshening up we head out to Stijn's parents home which is in the beautiful countryside of West Flanders. Moorsele is a picturesque little village with grazing cows, farm fields and windmills.

While on our way we stop to take a walk through the streets of Lessines.

After we arrive and settle in Stijn asks if I thought it would be a good idea to go to France and pick up some groceries. Ummm, okay. France? Sure! So we get back in the car and within 2 minutes, I'm in France!

We are shopping at Auchan, the BIGGEST one-stop shopping center I have ever seen! Bigger than Super WalMart people!

Let me first apologize before I go on with this story. There is probably going to be way too many pictures for some of you. But I feel this is the only way for you to truly appreciate how much fun I had shopping for groceries in France!

Now there wasn't anything too special about your typical electronics, housewares, clothing, and automotive sections but when you get to the grocery section, this is when you're reminded that you aren't in Kansas anymore Toto! Oh yes you have your typical isles filled with items to put in your pantry, but what about "La Boulangerie" (The Bakery) with breads piled high and so many different types. I just hate it when Stijn says "You choose honey"

Then to make it even more difficult, "Degustation Gratuite" (free samples) of more breads in the produce section.

Then there is the fresh seafood section filled with shrimp, crab, mussels and all different types of fish I have never seen or heard of before.

And then we hit the wine isle, I mean the wine isles and isles. Then just when you might think there are to many isles of wine, they've added "La Cave" (the cellar) God love France!

Now you know I love my wine, any wine, white or red. But do I know which wine goes best with pasta or cheese. No! But thanks to these great little charts I now know what type of wine I want with my cheese!

But how do I decide which cheese I want with all these choices? And then I hear "You choose honey".

Maybe some Saucisson Cheval (horse sausage) would go great with my cheese and a bottle of red wine.

Just when I thought I couldn't be anymore overwhelmed by all of this fabulous food and wine, we come to the check out lanes. We are in check out lane #36 and looking to the left....

.....and then to the right.

Dinner was fabulous tonight of course!

Well all I can say is "Wow"! What a great way to spend my first day "Back In Belgium"

If you would like to see more pictures of my first day click here "Where's Debbie" and then click on the album "Back In Belgium"
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