Monday, December 14th 2016 – Bruges
Monday was “how many museums can you pack into one day” as we endeavoured to see as much as possible and coincidentally also get as much value for money as we could out of the Bruges City Card. We were woken early anyway as we’d left the window open overnight and it turned out there’s a school very close by…
After breakfast we headed out to walk around the old town boundary to start with, going along the canal/river and stopping off at the renovated windmills that dot the path. It seemed to be a route popular with runners and cyclists and you really could see why.
It’s very quiet around the old working class quarter of town – or at least it is on a Monday in December. This seems a bit of a shame as it’s also very beautiful, though in a much less showy way than the main tourist area down around the Markt, the museums and churches and the canals. It even has the Great Seminary, tucked away behind high walls and surrounded by a lovely garden.
We did run into the inevitable “closed on Monday” situation for some of the things we would have liked to see (the Folklore Museum, the St. Sebastian’s Archers Guild with its magnificent tower) but most things were open, including the Lace Museum. I’m no knitter or crocheter so I am sure I would be even more inept if I were to attempt lace making, but I could still appreciate the detail and the sheer complexity of it. It’s a very compact museum and we were soon on our way to the far more essential (to us anyway) Adornes Estate and its fabulous 15th century Jerusalem Chapel, a tiny jewel of a church , consecrated in 1429 and taken its inspiration from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
The detail is amazing and there is a museum in the old almshouses that tells you more about the chapel and the Adornes family, who were clearly very influential back in the day, especially Anselm who was very active in diplomatic circles. They also provide the Scottish lounge, where you can have coffee and biscuits and where there is an honesty box for you to pay in. The Scottish lounge was obviously heavily influenced by the Victorian era craze for all things Scottish and is rather wonderfully mad.
Next up was the Frietmuseum, which sounds as if it will be a tacky tourist trap but actually proved to be very interesting. I certainly learned a lot about potatoes that I didn’t know. They’re yet another food where you end up wondering how anyone ever started eating them in the first place (I have a theory that most groups would have had someone who was considered dispensable, and who was daft enough to try anything. who would be given newly discovered foods to see what would happen).
A further advantage to the museum is that there is a friet stand in the basement, so friets and beer for lunch it had to be.
After that we fancied a sit down so we claimed our “free” (well, included on the City Card) horse-drawn carriage tour.
This is again more interesting than you might think, because it gives you a view that both complements and contrasts the canal boat trips. It also stops for sufficient time by the Beguinage that you can at least snatch a quick look inside the grounds even if you don’t have time to go round properly.
Unfortunately by the time we returned to the market square (and the somewhat underwhelming Christmas Market) I was being forcefully reminded that I am actually allergic to horses. The swollen eyes and wheezing soon wore off as we distanced ourselves from the cab stand and headed into the Historium Brugge interactive exhibition which takes you through 15th Century Bruges including Jan Van Eyck’s studio. Actually it’s very well done and there are further non-interactive rooms where more information is provided. And there are lovely views of the market square from the balcony.
It also has a beer cafe, the Duvelorium Grand Beer Cafe, which seemed like a fine idea to us!
Next we moved on to the Brugse Vrije (the Liberty of Bruges). It’s had a varied career over the centuries including time as a courtroom and is now the city archive. There’s a magnificent fire-place… the City Hall is also a stunning building both from the outside with its glorious medieval facade…
And also on the inside with the late 19th Century decoration, echoing the enthusiasm of the time for the Gothic.
That left the Basilica of the Holy Blood on our list of “must sees”. The idea of a double church is a strange one in some ways, but it works. There is the relatively staid Romanesque church below which is apparently pretty much unchanged from its original state.
Upstairs there is the gorgeous (if much-reworked) neo-Gothic church, where there is a relic which purports to be some of Christ’s blood, collected by Joseph of Arimathea although it could apparently also be a Byzantine perfume bottle, which seems far more likely to me. Either way, the church itself is a beauty, sumptuously decorated on pretty much every surface.
It was starting to get dark now, so we stopped off for a hot drink overlooking the market square.
A glass of mulled wine did the trick and we walked back to the hotel to change for dinner via more decorated streets.
Bruges was looking very lovely – it is such a photogenic city that it doesn’t have to try very hard to be honest. We’d struggled a bit to find a restaurant that was actually open on a Monday night in Bruges but had finally settled on Bruut. Where the previous nights had given us old-style Belgian cuisine and classical French, this was a far more edgy proposition.
There is only the tasting menu and they ask you to arrive by 8pm at the latest so that everyone can be served not quite at once, but so each course can be dealt with in one go. First up was an amuse bouches of lamb, rosemary, thyme, sorrel and crab and quite a wake up to the taste buds it proved.
Next came two small, delicately perfumed pumpkin ravioli, scattered with Parmesan and beautifully soft.
A further small pastry course followed, full of fishy flavours and served on rocks. The We Want Plates people would have had a fit!
And next one of the most wonderful surprises, a carpaccio of scallops and turnips with cottage cheese and cauliflower puree. I defy anyone to have recognised the turnips as such they were so soft and tender and tasty, and the whole confection blended beautifully. And as you can see it looked stunning!
Sea bass, mussels, burnt leeks and purslane was the next dish. It didn’t look quite as amazing as the scallops but it tasted equally good with the fish cooked just right, and the mussels at that stage where they are still soft and not chewy. There was some great cooking going on in their minute kitchen!
A tranche of cod came next, accompanied by “various greens”, bacon, and oyster beurre blanc. Fabulous even if Lynne didn’t like the sprouts!
We were on the home straight now, with plates and meat! Venison, served with beetroot, cranberries, Jerusalem artichoke and chocolate. Now I normally can’t see the point of Jerusalem artichokes (or globe artichokes for that matter), but here they worked well with their earthy flavour, combining with the rich gaminess of the venison, and the chocolate brought it all together in a harmonious whole.
The final course had a touch of the medieval trencher about it. This was described as pear, honey, rosemary and crunchy milk. It was brilliant! It was fresh, clever and tasty and that’s all you really want from a dessert. The crunchy milk was a revelation and the honey flavoured ice cream was a wonderful thing.
And then we walked back to the hotel down the quiet side streets along the canal. We had another early start in the morning – we needed to get the train home.