Bruges, Ypres, and the Last Post.

Wow. I’m finally getting around to writing this. Almost 3 weeks later! Well, at least it’s 3 weeks rather than almost 3 months late (Amsterdam). This post is dedicated to iamjoe over at the blog Dynamic Flux who asked me for a post on chocolate. While it may not be exactly what you were looking for, this along with the rest of the pics on Facebook do give quite a bit of information!

Sunday, October 16 2011.

Lucie and I are up, have breakfasted, and are out the door by…oh, it must have already been around 9am. The drive there was nice. Not too much traffic. I’d never driven in Northern Belgium before. I mean, I’d been up there, but it wasn’t me who drove ;). I missed the entrance to the parking garage the first time round, somehow that always happens. So I just drove around the square, took the round-a-bout again and this time we were golden. When we walked up from the garage, it was to find that the square we were in was mostly deserted. Then again, Sunday morning isn’t the busiest time of the week and from what I could gather this wasn’t a super busy area. There was a large fountain at the one end that we took a bunch of pictures of before moving on. We had a map, but didn’t really know which direction to go in. Finally we looked up and scanned the skyline. We saw a few peaks of buildings and decided to head in their directions.

Holy moly I'm actually here!

The biggest thing we saw was the Belfry in the Markt. Good thing to because that’s where we were originally headed. Again, the Markt wasn’t that busy. It was pretty full when we returned later in the day. There were some people in line for horse-drawn carriage rides, that could have been fun. There were also canal rides we could have gone on, but the line for those was super long and we had a schedule to keep to. So after hanging around in the Markt to take pictures we chose a side street at random and started walking. One of the first shops we encountered was a lace shop. Belgium is also famous for this lace so we had to go in. The women working there was very nice, let us take pictures, – they had an example of how the lace is made on display – and thankfully spoke English. Although, that’s not really a surprise because Bruges is a tourist town. Of course, up there they speak Flemish. Lucie and I both walked away with a purchase and I feel that the items were quite reasonably priced for homemade lace. For me I got a key chain with a lace H in side – a little tacky, I know, but it’s something I can use – and I got two other things, but they’re for gifts and in case the recipients are reading I don’t want them to know ;).

Such beauty and art. And all by hand.

Right beside the lace shop was a chocolate shop. Then another, and another, and oh my goodness it seemed like every second shop held chocolate and/or candy. We had been forewarned by Adeline, but even then I wasn’t expecting so many. I couldn’t help but take pictures of the yummy window displays. And on we walked. Every street and sidewalk was paved with cobblestones. This is a Medieval city after all. In fact because of its closeness to the sea and channels it became quite the trading hub. Between the 11th and 13th centuries it enjoyed considerable economic development thanks to its location at the ‘crossroads of Europe’. With the sanding over of the Zwin (a large channel used for the transportation of goods)  and the competition with the port of Antwerp, after the 15th century things slowed down in Bruges. It wasn’t until the 19th century with restoration and tourism management that Bruges once again became an important city and is now granted UNESCO world heritage status.*

Dude you want what? There's so much to choose from. What do I do? What do I do!!

I didn't know this was City Hall when I took the picture. Huh. It was built in 1376 and is situated in the burg (a square).

This is the burg with City Hall on the left and at back-left (attached to City Hall) is the Basilica of Saint Sang(the dark building with gold).The lower chapel was built in 1139 and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

As we walked we took many pictures – of the architecture, the waterways, the statues. We even got someone to take a picture of us together! We walked through a small tunnel and into another square and – quite by accident – located the City Hall and the Basilica of Saint Sang. I didn’t know it that day, I only just realized what those buildings were today as I was looking through my one guide-book. I remember taking a picture of what I now know to be the Basilica because it was so dark, ominous, and old-looking – truly Medieval (the lower chapel was built in 1139). We found a bench to sit on and proceeded to eat lunch. After lunch we continued on our way. Our goal was the Chocolate Museum. Yes, there is a chocolate museum. They even have free samples they give out. The things you didn’t know about chocolate! Okay, I’m sure some of you already knew these things, but I didn’t. I did know that in South American cocoa beans were a big deal. The first way that cocoa was consumed was in drink form. Hot, spicy, smooth. It wasn’t until Cortez and the Spanish came though that sugar was added. I know it’s commonly known that sugar comes from sugar cane, but did you know it also comes from sugar beets? I only found that out once I got here. This area of Belgium grows a whole lot of sugar beets. Now that they’ve been harvested you’ll pass by fields and see a long, high pile of sugar beets close the road waiting to get picked up and transported to the nearest factory. There’s one about 15 minutes from us. Holy sugar beets. Did you know that 10 cocoa beans would buy you a rabbit, and 100 beans would buy you a slave? They also had special cups for the drink – some even had a special tube you could blow in to create froth. They loved them some frothy cocoa drink. They also had this special ‘stir stick’  that would create froth. Cocoa was also used for medicinal purposes. And not just in South American either.Do you like froth in your hot chocolate?

Chocolate can do what?!

Napoleon was noted as saying that chocolate is good for one’s health and in the next turn he denied it all. It was a drink the wealthy partook of often, creating their own special mugs and saucers just for their chocolate drink.

Well if Napoleon said it's healthy, who am I to disagree?

Belgium is famous for its pralines. In 1912 after inheriting his father’s chocolate business Jean Neuhaus – an expensive, but oh so good chocolate store – created the Belgian praline. First it was a hazelnut coated in chocolate and then a little filled chocolate cup. Leonidas is also a chocolate shop you see around in Belgium. Leonidas Kestekidès was a Greek who lived in the United States and then fell in love with a Belgian women before settling in Belgium and opening up a tearoom and the Leonidas company.

Even the jungle animals are crazy for coca beans! By the way...before this I didn't know that cocoa beans were found in those pods. And someone in this museum must really love LEGO because there were little models EVERYWHERE!

There were many plaques like this one including the answers to the questions 'does chocolate make you fat?' or 'does chocolate give you cavities?' See them all in the full FB album!

At the end we entered into an area that was full of statues made entirely from chocolate. There was even one of Barack Obama. At the end of this area was a chocolate demonstration and then you were finished – but not before walking through the shop part of the museum.

Yes. Those are entirely made/carved of chocolate. Eat your heart out. ^_^

Then it was on to the French Fry museum! Again, potatoes come from South America before making their way to North America and Europe. Potatoes, like chocolate, are also known for their healing effects. For example raw potato juice is incredibly soothing (said a plaque, it wasn’t me). Also, you can eat as many potatoes as you want – they don’t make you fat, it’s all the sauce and gravy you eat with them ;).

Why French Fries are called French Fries. Now you know.

Have you ever wondered why the fries in Belgium are so yummy? Well, you might if you were here eating them :P. I will tell you why. There are a combination of reasons – the appropriate variety of potato is cooked with the appropriate variety of cooking fat, they are often freshly peeled and cut, they are cooked in unrefined beef tallow and sometimes mixed with horse fat (ummm…), and the fries are cooked in two separate phases. I’ve noticed that. When you go to a Fritterie you will see a pile of fries sitting on a ledge above the cooking area. I was curious about that until going to this museum. They are cooked for a little while and then placed up here. Then when there’s an order they take the appropriate amount and toss them back in the cooking fat to finish them off. This makes them tastier and cuts down on customer wait times. Clever huh?

When we finished up there we set out again, intending to head back to the Markt, but we ended up going tin the wrong direction and were going out of the city centre – the old part. So we got set straight and found our way back to a chocolate shop so Lucie could buy some chocolates. Then it was on our way to Ypres, the In Flanders Fields Museum, and the playing of the Last Post. The cloth industry was a the main contributing factor in the rapid growth of Ypres in the 12th Century. The cloth halls were built in 1260 (the IFFM is located here). They were destroyed in WWI, but rebuilt in the old style. The large Menin Gate is a monument to the 54,896 British soldiers who died in combat.* Their names are carved on the walls. Canada was still considered to be British during this time. Although, after the battle of Vimy Ridge it started to gain recognition as its own country. More on that in my post on Vimy Ridge.

The In Flanders Fields Museum takes you through some history behind Ypres, detailed information about the war itself and why Ypres, what the German’s objectives were, and so much more. You also get a card at the beginning that you put into information stations and it gives you info on a specific person involved in the war at Ypres. I got an American nurse. I missed the last info station because the museum was closing. So we kind of had to rush through the end, but at least we got to see it. The museum is actually closing November 31 to expand. It’s quite the place already. In one area they had a raised platform with clear plastic columns. In these columns were different gas masks. The lights would be off and there was a reading of the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. Then there was a reading of a letter written by a soldier (I’m pretty sure) and as he described the war zone and the gas attacks the columns would light up and you could see the gas. It was very eerie. There was also a section dedicated to the telling of how on Christmas 1915 or ’16 (I’m so sorry I can’t remember!) there was an unofficial truce between enemies. How both sides travelled into No Man’s Land to shake hands, wish the other a Merry Christmas, and share things like sausages. The conditions the men had to face here are unbelievable. Belgium usually gets a lot of rain, but during these battles there was more than normal and a lot of things went missing in the mud (including horses). And the psychological damage…it’s a wonder anyone managed to come back and lead normal lives.

Unfortunately we didn't think to take a picture before it got dark so it's not the best quality.

Here are the rebuilt Cloth Halls now home to the In Flanders Fields Museum.

This is either Ypres of Passendale. Can you imagine? I certainly can't.

At 8pm every single night there is a gathering of people at the Menin Gate. They place flowers, read something to those gathered, play the Last Post, and have a moment of silence. I can’t remember what they recited because I couldn’t hear it (I’m pretty sure it was in English though). There was never a moment of real silence which bugged me. Even as packed as the area was it was definitely possible. There was a school group from the UK there. Teenagers. Unfortunately the one’s near us were quite disrespectful. Not all (I don’t want to generalize), but a lot. And pushy too. The kept wanting to see. Well, there wasn’t much to see as it was dark and I think the point is more about listening. Lucie and I were right up against the chain you have to stay behind and we were both being pushed so much we almost fell over. If I wouldn’t have had boots on I think I would have had bruised shins. So that was a little frustrating and disappointing, but I’m glad we got to experience it.

I have to mention this even though I forgot earlier. For supper that night I had fish and chips. I haven’t had fish and chips in ages! I’m really picky when it comes to this dish because I don’t like it when there’s too much batter on the fish because it ends up being all gooey instead of crispy. Plus I’ve only started to like fish in the last few years. My favourite place to eat fish and chips back home is a restaurant called Joey’s Only. So good. And in Ypres, oh my goodness, I was very happy with my choice. Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum ^_^.

So all in all it was quite the busy day! 3 museums, 2 cities, and really good company. I’m just sorry it took me so long to post about it.

*taken from my book The Best of Belgium.

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6 Comments

  1. Great post! I never liked chocolate, but I’m quite impressed by what can be done with it! 😉

    Reply
  2. OMG I’m so hungry now, I’d walk to Belgium to get some of that food right now if I could LOL

    Reply
    • Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could walk here? New York Fries will never be the same for me…not that I ate a lot of them anyway, lol. Hopefully you enjoyed something yummy to eat after reading ;).

      Reply
  3. I feel as if I had just gone on a mini-vacation and enjoyed a gastronomic journey coupled with an interesting history lesson. What a great post Holly! FBing this now on the CCC page 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks so much! I was a little worried because I had written half the post on another day, and I’d waited so long to wrote it and forgotten things so I wasn’t sure if it flowed. And by the time I finished it I was so tired and just wanted to be done with it! I’m so glad you enjoyed it and felt like you were there ^_^.

      Reply

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