Friday, December 09, 2011

The Town of a Million Chocolatiers

When our plane landed in Belgium, it was the perfect Fall day. The sky was a radiant blue, the leaves that were left clinging to the trees were bright orange and yellow, the air was cool and crisp, and the smiling faces of our good friends Kevin and Vicky were waiting for us at the arrivals gate at the airport. (Insert gigantic sigh of delight). And Belgium only got better from there.

Why were we in Belgium? Well, besides being the birth place of all that is wonderful in the world (ie: Belgium chocolate), the country is also rumored to brew a pretty good beer, not to mention it's waffles and cheese sauce- and above all we had a generous invitation from a wonderful Flemish couple that we had met more than a year ago now while traveling in New Zealand. They were on a five month trip through Canada, US, NZ and Oz. They had already even been to Niagara Falls! We met at a spaceship convention near NZ's glaciers on the South Island. 'Spaceships' being the cleverly named, bright orange and white campervan rental company- not actual alien-driven spaceships from outer space. As if I just had to specify that. There were spaceships all around us, in our parking-spot sized camp sites. It was close quarters- perfect for meeting fellow space travellers. A big ol' party of bright orange campervans, all crammed into a tiny corner of the campground-isolated from all the non-spacey campers. We didn't take too much offence. The concentration was of course, the result of this specific campground offering a special discounted price to any spaceship which chose to land its domain. Kevin and Vicky told us that our spaceship, whose name 'Adama' was painted in white across the driver's side door- was the important captain from Battlestar Galactica. This we did not know. Kevin and Vicky thought that our being Adama was very cool, and therefore, by association, we must be cool as well. We immediately liked this idea. We immediately liked Kevin and Vicky. And so began our Belgium planning.

Kevin and Vicky were determined to give us the complete Belgian experience. It was a pretty tall order, seeing as we, unfortunately, had only 2.5 days with them in Bruges. I mean we had to fit in chocolate, beer, chocolate, waffles, chocolate, fries, chocolate, and well... chocolate. And that's just the food list. Against the odds, Kevin and Vicky had wild success- we feel like we really experienced Belgium's highlights and had the best tour guides in the country.

Kevin and Vicky were perfect hosts. The first thing Vicky did after we arrived at their apartment was to pull out a box of chocolates for us to sample. Cote D'Or too- my absolute favourite. What a sweet way to start Belgium! Not only that, but our hosts had thoughtfully left us a large bowl at our bedside over-flowing with chocolates and chewy toffees! Sigh. They had me at hello. haha It was more than just chocolate-of course, that made our stay in Bruges so wonderful. Kevin and Vicky were warm, welcoming, fun, thoughtful, generous- and have an impeccable taste in comedies and music. Vicky was a fantastic cook too!

What we loved most was wandering around the adorable, atmospheric streets of Bruges with our favourite locals. Vicky regaled us with fantastic local legends and stories related to the city's long ago empires, royals and dramas. I loved it. We were standing on a bridge admiring the far-too-gorgeous for-its-own-good view and Vicky was telling us the legend behind the name 'Minewater' where we were standing. It started how all good tragedies start...'Long, long ago, there was a boy who loved a girl but...' the three of us were totally enthralled. The drama! The scandal! We were soaking up every word she said, practically biting our nails, wondering how it would all end. Kevin was starring a Vicky with surprise and admiration (and maybe a bit of disbelief). How did she know all this? Man, she's fantastic. When the story was over we all sighed impressed by Vickys detailed knowledge and memory. 'I just read all that this morning,' Vicky says, pulling a guidebook out of her pocket. We all burst out laughing.

Jonathan and Kevin discussed ice hockey and video games and Vicky and I gazed longingly into the windows of chocolate shops. We could have spent many happy days like this. We just seemed to connect with Kevin and Vicky. We chatted constantly about everything and nothing. The time flew... and suddenly, it was time again to sample more Belgian chocolate!

Another great advantage to having local friends is that they know where all the really good food is. (By food I mean chocolate.) And we like good food. (Chocolate). Seeing as (literally) every other shop in Bruges is a chocolatier, it was fantastic that Vicky knew the best one. Why waste calories on the second best? All the research was already done. Tough job that must have been! And we appreciated all that legwork. Plus, Kevin and Vicky even knew where a Chocolate WORLD was! Chocolate W.O.R.L.D. I don't think I need to say anymore. Our bellies were bigger-but boy we were we (was I) happy.

Kevin and Vicky had gone far out of their way to stock their fridge full off their favourite Belgian beers for us to try. Manly varieties for Kevin and Jonathan and fruity sweet beers for Vicky and I. This was going to be fun. Apparently they forgot one of the beers that we should sample,so we all went on an excursion the supermarket to rectify this. We arrived at the beer aisle and practically fell over- and we hadn't even had a sip of beer yet. Allow me to paint you a picture. The aisle was as big as one at Costco. From floor to ceiling, down the whole aisle- was beer. Beer doesn't come in 24s here, so its not like there was just stacks of boxed Canadian, Blue and Coors Light. No. There was literally a hundred kinds of beer. All in 4 packs. All with wonderfully creative labels- none being the beer Kevin was looking for. 'They don't have a very good selection here,' Vicky says. Jonathan and I don't say anything, because we are still concentrated on picking our jaws off the ground.

We crammed so many fun things into our short time in Belgium, thanks to our hosts. We explored Bruges quite extensively, wandering down streets, through hidden passageways and into churches (and chocolatiers), we went on a fantastic tour of the only brewery left in town (Half Moon), we watched the movie 'In Bruges' (to see the town through the eyes of Hollywood), we baked (!!!) and then artfully decorated cupcakes, we drove out to the coast and strolled along the beach, I learned how to make a scrumptious cheese sauce, we ate waffles and witnessed a special visit from St.Nicholas and his little helper, we went to a cute Christmas market, visited the Atomian (Belgium's answer to the Eiffel tower), and laughed. A lot.

Ohhh and Belgium fries. Can't forget that little treat. The perfect combination of crunchy and soft- so full of flavour, and maybe a little fat. The secret behind Belgium fries? Shhhhhhh.They are fried- twice. And rule is that they must be fully cooled before they are fried for the second time. I would say that maybe this is a tad excessive- but the fries are so good- perfection, really- who am to argue with an extra round in the deepfryer? And ketchup? scoff. No way. At the fry shop you have a choice of approximately twenty sauces- creamy, spicy, chunky, smooth. Belgians really do bring the fry experience to a whole new level of deliciousness. Really, who can be bothered about all these calories with the double frying and mayo-based sauces when eating Begian fries is such a life changing experience? Who, I ask?

Stuffed full of chocolate and everything else that is wonderfully Belgian (plus some wrapped up for the road) and still high on our fantastic time in Bruges with Kevin and Vicky, we boarded an early morning train to Paris. As we smiled and waved a sad goodbye to our friends from our seats on the train, we couldn't help but feel like we were the luckiest people around.

ps. Happy Birthday A.Eileen and A.Marlene!

pps.Home in less than 2 weeks!!

ppps. More pics in Flickr!


Parentals said...

Hope you are bringing home some chocolate to share!!!

Anonymous said...

mmmmmmmmmmmm now i want chocolate

also, is there seriously someone spamming your blog comments?! So odd.

Cant wait to see you soon!