Belgian Food continues...

As you can read in Jess' last post, Ghent in quite spectacular. There are buildings and things...and FOOD. Unfortunately, we apparently have no idea how to eat here! We have often gone in search of food based upon lots of research only to find the restaurant closed. This is an extremely frustrating time of year to be visiting. Restaurants are ALWAYS closed...some on the weekend, some on Sunday and Monday, some on Wednesday and Thursday, people leave for extended holidays, etc. All of the mom and pop type places I want to eat are unavailable...kinda sucks.

In general, there is a rhythm to eating and going out here and Jess and I don't get it...but there is also the New Year messing everything up. I imagine we'll get it just in time to leave :)

Of the food we did eat, I was most satisfied. We have had a large sampling of "frites" or chips with mayo and various sauces and I am officially a fan. The mayo is different here, more subtle and tasty and somehow less dense. Fries are basically fries; the only difference seems to be quality of oil and freshness. All are previously frozen, minus the skin and a little thinker than the average American French fry.

The Ghent "noses", a candy Jess describes in her last post arer really quite amazing. They are floral in a way that is surprising and quite addictive.

I finally had the Brussels style waffle with chocolate sauce, which is slightly larger and lighter than the Liege waffles we have been getting from carts. The chocolate sauce was quite watery; the waffle I think less tasty than the more dense and sweet Liege waffles.

I will also tell you that I have tried the best beer in the land (based upon an ever growing sample size :), and it ain't Dues (tried that in Brugges...excellent and interesting, but I don't need it again). The winner by a land slide is the Belgium made beer Delirium Tremens. This is a subtle, lighter colored beer that sits at about 8.5%. The nose is fantastic, body much lighter than expected, and the drink-ability quite high...I could drink these things all night if not for the high AC. Look for the white bottle with pink elephants. At 3.5 Euro per go in a pub, you CANNOT go wrong.

Last but not least, the famous Moules Frites. These are the quite expensive Belgian mussels served in broth, wine, or a cream sauce. They run from about 20-30 Euro a plate and come with a side of the ubiquitous fries. After researching places, we found one that was finally open; the result...truly spectacular! For one, the portion was very large. They serve the dish in a large steamer bowl with a lid. I chose the wine and broth. These mussels are tender, creamy, and lightly taste of the sea. Gone is the rather metallic taste that I find in most American mussels. I cannot afford it again, but I'm definitely glad I made room for the expense. These mussels were at Bridge, a Brasserie by the Bellfor.

Can't Ghent Enough

Ghent it? Yeah, we do. Not only is Belgium's fourth most populous city prime for name-calling puns, it's my new favorite super-old, overly gorgeous, filled with delicious things European city.
We arrived yesterday, New Year's day (happy new year!) and are leaving tomorrow to go to Brussels. This is certainly a place I know I want to come back to. A sizable city, with just over 250,000 inhabitants, Ghent brings together the seemingly unending architectural beauty that Brugges offers, but with a bigger city feel, thriving student population and all kinds of old-world-meets-new-world art and design that makes this girl real happy.

A note about art in Ghent: it's everywhere. In addition to the collection of medieval churches, buildings and town halls, one can see what seems like an entire history of western architecture just in an hour's walk through the historic city center.  Earlier in 2012 I spent a lot of time thinking (mostly at work) about creative placemaking - the process of animating public spaces with artistic expression and installation. Here, creative placemaking is alive and well. One of the most visible examples is the 'grafitistraatje' - a little alley where the street walls, bricks and fences (anyone - you too!) are continually reinvented by street graffiti artists. At first glance, looking down the alley looks a bit dodgy, but once you step in you're surrounded by such a collection of artists that Portland's first Thursday would pale in comparison. Street art seems to be a highly respected form of expression and you can easily find yourself turning a corner to be welcomed by an extensive mural or graffiti experiment. And although we didn't see it, apparently a group of artists are working on a 'graffiti tower' project in response to the city's plan to tear down to high-rise low(er) income development projects and displace a large group of immigrants.

I've also been so excited to see contemporary art installations in the (huge) medieval churches. From photography installations to youth artworks to an electric light installation, it's clear that these old, ornate and incredibly beautiful spaces are being reinvigorated time and time again. I like it.

We've of course been keen to partake in local treats. Aside from the obvious necessary intake of high-gravity Belgian beer, we found a true Belgian "Frieten" or friterie/fries cart. Just for the record, fries are not French, their Belgian, and are typically served with sauce - the traditional being mayo.

We also visited Mokabon, a coffee house that serves locally roasted coffee. But the best part??? When you want cream with your coffee, they give you a little plate of thick Belgian whipped cream. I LOVE THIS PLACE.

We also made sure to try "cuberdon" - the "nose of Ghent" a candy made only in this region is hard on the outside (but not like hard candy) and stuffed with fruity sweet gelatin paste. At first taste we weren't sure we were into it, but before we knew it we were on a mission for a sac of these little "noses" because we just wanted more. Good thing we're walking about 9 miles a day (that's not an exaggeration) because Belgium would be very bad for my waistline otherwise.

Our next destination is to the capital, Brussels, where we'll spend three days hanging out. I'm particularly looking forward to visiting the instrument museum, the world's largest collection of unique instruments from around the world. I'm also looking forward to having some Belgian chocolate, which oddly for me I haven't even had yet - too busy with the waffles, beer, fries and now cuberdons. Don't worry Mom, I had a salad tonight.

There's so much more I want to say about Ghent, but it's been such a whirlwind of a time here. I remarked to Jon tonight how much it feels like Strasbourg (France) to me, and perhaps that's why I feel so comfortable here and why I enjoy it so much (despite not understanding a lick of Dutch - I just don't Ghent it..hahaha ok sorry). I spent 5 months in Strasbourg, fyi for anyone who was wondering why on earth I would have any attachment to that city. Whatever it is, I hope we make it back here before the trip is done. I'm considering this an official scouting mission.

What are some of your favorite far away cities?




Our time in Bruges has come to a close. We leave deeply impressed with the scape of this beautiful city, tired of the crowds of Brugenyland, hung over on amazing beer, full of frites and waffles. Some Bruge thoughts:

1) Food is expensive. Unless you are having a super cheap snack food, your out 15-20 euro for lunch and 20-30 for dinner for a three course meal. Jess and I were impressed with the mayo on is somehow better here. The waffles were always great as well. We had Flemish stew (beef stew in a dark beer sauce) and rabbit Flemish style (in a beer sauce with prunes); both were quite good and came with frties per usual. I can't say we got a chance to try much food here due to the cost, but there are over 400 places to eat here and I would like to have a go at them all.

2) Beer is cheap. Given my nature to pay too much for Belgian beer in the states I was amazed to find that some of the best Belgian beer is 2 euro in the bottle, 4 euro at the pub. We also toured the only brewery in Bruge, The Half Moon which makes a great beer called Bruge Zot and Hendricks. Beer is freaking serious here...never considered ordering wine (except for hot spiced wine in the market :).

3) I have never seen so many beautiful buildings in my life; every corner you turn is amazing. However, other people think this too...hence, Brugneyland. every day a flood of tourist come into town and leave in the evening.


Jess chiming in here: HAPPY NEW YEAR! As Jon mentioned, we really did decide to dub Bruges Brugeneyland. It's so unbelievably beautiful - oozing with gorgeousness - it's overwhelming. The first city settlements were made in the 8th century, with the height of merchant trade, religion, and art culminating in the 15th century. Home to artist Jan Van Eyck, the only Michelangelo sculpture made onsite outside of Italy and the first book ever published in English, Brugge has serious history. Art is everywhere, not just in galleries, public art, and in the ridiculous amount of churches; but in every detail of the buildings, landscaping and canals.

The amount of tourists that pour in each day and leave at sundown, really does give the feeling that you're in a theme park, that it can't be real, but it is.

Our new year's eve was one of the most fun new year's eves I can remember. In Brugges, the highlight of the evening is to convene outside the concert hall (oddly one of a few modern buildings in the city) and partake in a 15,000+ person sing-a-long. Songs were sung in dutch, italian, french, spanish and english, and, while some of the song choices were pretty odd, it was a beautifully festive and family affair. People of every age, singing, dancing and celebrating. A scene of pure joy - even with the misty rain. Events like these would heal the world if they happened more often. Our favorite parts were "Sweet Caroline" sung in dutch, a massive amount of people dancing to gangnam style, and a dutch song that our Ghent couchsurfing hosts have informed us is a Belgian 'dwarf dance' - where everyone waves their arms over their heads, turns around, ducks/squats down and does another turn. Let me tell you, when 10,000+ people start doing a totally cute belgian dwarf dance, you can't help but be happy.

We're in Ghent for a couple of days and then off to Brussels. More soon!

What did you all do for New Year's Eve?