Bourgondiers, Bruge, and Beer Pipelines…my 1st day in Belgium

Bourgondiers: ‘An expression used by the Flemish to describe someone who appreciates the finer things in life’.

There are a few good things that came out of me owning that restaurant in Boca Raton, and one of those things is my friendship with Siska and Stephan. Siska and Stephan are a phenomal couple that have been married for like 100 years. Atleast this is what it sounds like to me from the backseat of their car. They speak in 3 languages when they communicate-Flemish, English, and their own language! They finish each other’s sentences-that only they could understand because they are literally speaking their own private language! They switch the subject about 25 times per minute, again all in their own language. They are originally from Belgium and I met them 10 years ago in Boca. I was fortunate enough to have spent the past few days with these Bourgondiers. 

After a two hour and 40 minute flight on ‘Renair’ airline, I arrived in Belgium. I need to stop here and tell you that my Renair plane was so small and uncomfortable that it makes Southwest flights from Florida to Rhode Island feel like first class! You can’t even “recline” the seat when the plane gets in the air! There isn’t even a slot to put your magazine in on the chair in front of you! It was pretty bad and apparently Stephan couldn’t agree with me more. When he found out that I flew Renair, he proclaimed “I will drive in a car for 15 hours before I EVER fly that airline again!!!”. 

I arrived at their home at about 1:00 in the morning and, needless to say, Siska and I chatted for two hours before getting to bed. I slept beautifully in a king size, plush bed and awoke at 9:00 in the morning. I was very excited to make my expresso. As I walked toward the kitchen, I was taken aback at the breath-taking view of the North Sea. Their home sits on the beach. I enjoyed my breakfast with Siska while we watched a man on a horse “shrimping” in the ocean. 

The view of The North Sea and the horse carriage for the shrimp.

These little grey shrimp, called ‘kroketten’ on every menu, are a quintessential food in Belgium. Siska explains to me that there are very few men left that actually still do the shrimping. And, of course, one of them is a friend of theirs. I learn that even though the Belgians consume more than 50% of these little shrimp, the Dutch control the market and set the prices. This is due to the fact that Belgium’s three largest fisheries are owned by the Dutch, all while they fly the Belgium flag, of course.

This is my lunch on Monday. Notice the little grey shrimp.

Siska tells me our game plan for the weekend, and we get ready and head towards Brugge. 

Belgium is about the size of Maryland and borders The Netherlands, Germany, and France. The country has 11 provinces and three official languages: Dutch (Flemish), French and German. (By the way, this means that on every consumer product label everything must be written in all 3 languages). Oh and ‘swinging’ is legal.

The town of Bruge holds a special place in my heart. When I was 20 years old and in college, I was fortunate enough to get accepted into a program through Johnson & Wales to study at a Hotel Tourism school here in Bruge called Spermalie. It is here that I met Chelsey. Chelsey and I were roommates at Spermalie and have been the best of friends ever since. Chelsey is from Massachusetts and she moved to Boca Raton too. We have been friends for 18 years and still talk almost everyday. And for this and many more reasons, I cannot wait to see Bruge again 18 years later. 

Our first stop is the main market place in the historic centre of Bruge. The historic city centre is a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCO. And, it is just as amazing as I remembered. It seriously looks like the backdrop of a fairytale only with chocolate shops on the corner of each cobblestone street that lead to the main center. 

‘Burg Square’

We than make our way through the market stopping to buy patés, cheeses, breads, pastries, sausages, mousses, mustards, speculoos spreads, etc. The weather is perfect, about 10 degrees Celcius and sun is bright. We continue our day with a walk over the beer pipeline to see the magnificent architecture in ‘Burg Square’. Yes, a beer pipeline! In September of 2016, a 2 mile long pipeline was completed to connect the ‘Halve Maan Brewery’ to their bottling plant. Apparently, it was too complicated logistically for the trucks to maneuver down the cobblestone streets of this mideval town so they installed an underground pipeline! And, it was a crowdfunding project! Go figure! Jeff, Stephans brother, explained to me that 4,000 liters of beer an hour flows through this thing. These people are very serious about their beer. Jeff also explains to me that there were three levels for the crowdfunding. The gold level cost €7,500 and with that came one bottle of ‘Bruge Zot Blond’ everyday for the rest of your life. In my opinion, this gold plan definitely seems the most cost effective. After discovering the price per bottle of this ‘Bruge Zot Blond’, if one lives for only 10 more years and drinks only one per day, it has paid for itself. Not to mention, the 18 personalized Parisian glasses that is included in the Gold membership. Just sayin.

Siska eagerly continued the tour up and down weaving us all around town. Our movement continues toward the ‘Belfry’. The ‘Belfry’ is the famous bell tower located in the historic center. We passed on the opportunity to pay to climb 366 steps to the top in claustrophobic conditions. When I think about it, I can’t understand why when I was 20 years old that I would pay to do such a thing. But then I remember that back than I was on a mission to drink my way through Belgiums entire beer selection. Which, by the way, these days exceeds 3,000!!

We than circumvent the ‘Basillica of the Holy Blood’ to continue our tour with a stop at ‘Pierre Marcolini’. The ‘Basillica of the Holy Blood’ is a church said to house a small bottle of blood from Jesus Christ. I don’t think either of us felt the need to venerate the phial. The master chocolatier was what was peaking my interest! Now this is some profound chocolate! This is a man that travels the globe half of the year in search of his ingredients. He than spends the other half of the year producing the most delicate chocolate that I have ever tasted.

We continued to wander down the ‘Begijinhof’ and I am reminded of just how Bruges literally transports you to different age. This area was once home to Benedictine nuns. Now it is simply a tranquil haven with beautiful streets selling lace and waffles over-looking the beautiful canals. More about lace and waffles tomorrow.
After spending a beautiful afternoon in Bruges, Siska and I are off to visit her parents back by the seaside. They are so incredibly kind and were so interested to hear about my adventures in España. We stayed for a couple of hours just chatting away and I got to hear their love story told by Siska’s mother  with her father commentary. Visiting with them truly made my day! I’m truly grateful for their kindness and company. It was wonderful.

We went to a fantastic dinner at their friends restaurant where we both enjoyed dishes indigenous to this region and than called it a night.  I still have two more days to go in Belgium with my Bourgondiers and I  am estatic about that!