Five ways the Bruges chocolate museum will make you nuts

Choco-Story is a pretty wild place. Predictably, it calls Bruges home. After all, Belgium and chocolate go together like hot dogs and obesity. On my recent trip to Bruges, I heard about Choco-Story from the guy at the front desk of my hotel. Given that I like to nibble a bit of chocolate every now and then, it seemed worth a visit.

What I saw shocked me.

This isn’t a museum in the conventional sense. The displays seem to have been designed from the tobacco industry playbook. The propaganda was extensive, and in a departure from the cigarette world, it wasn’t shrouded effectively. Rather, insane innuendo was offered throughout the museum, and its true nature was painfully obvious. Had it been executed slightly better, the whole thing would have been funny. Alas, it was not.

So, if you’re looking for some chocolate fun, Choco-Story will drive you absolutely nuts. Here are the top five ways this stop in Bruges will make your mind swirl:

%Gallery-129173%
1. Orwell would be impressed: Choco-Story resembles the industry’s Ministry of Truth more than it does a museum. Sure, you can walk through the history of chocolate in this Belcolade-sponsored environment … but you’ll get some strong “messaging” along the way. Chocolate, it seems, hasn’t sufficiently been linked to acne, weight gain or tooth decay – at least not according to the signs. Without coming out and claiming … well … anything, exhibits suggest that chocolate may be an aphrodisiac. And that the fat should probably lose weight before introducing dark chocolate back into their diets (the slim, on the other hand, can munch as much as they want).

2. It takes a while to get to the food: I realize that chocolate has a long and rich history. It takes centuries to get anywhere near the developments most closely related to the snacks we enjoy today. That doesn’t mean that Choco-Story needs to cover every historical moment in painstaking detail. Not every contribution should get equal weight, especially from the perspective of the sugar-fiending visitor.

3. There isn’t much chocolate: to say that Choco-Story isn’t interactive is to conceal the frustration that a visit invites. Throughout the museum, you’ll wander through displays that range from historical to propaganda, but you won’t really find any chocolate (not the kind you can stick in your mouth). At the end of the tour, there is a display. You can see a chocolatier at work in a spotless kitchen, surrounded by statues constructed in that particular medium. You’re limited to looking and not touching, however. This strip club-style constraint continues into the demonstration room, where a speaker shows and tells without letting your fingers near a nibble. Guests are given only one piece of chocolate, and they can’t get it until they leave through a door that’s closed until the end of the lecture.

4. Toys: okay, so the chocolate is controlled tightly. That wouldn’t be so bad if the museum actually rocked. While there are some interesting chocolate-related artifacts, they are mixed in with Lego-style displays intended to illustrate the history of the sweet. They really don’t look that good. It’s a joke. A cartoonish chocolate character appears in some signs in an effort to inject a bit of humor, but he fails – horribly.

5. Cash only: for most people, this might not be a big deal. I don’t carry a lot of cash, though, and I know I’m not alone. If you don’t have cash with you, you’re stuck looking for an ATM when you’d rather be inside the museum. The silver lining in all this is that you really aren’t missing anything anyway.

It’s enough to make you want to snort some chocolate …

Five Belgian chocolate statues and their inspirations

When you wander through Europe, you run into statues (literally, if you have your nose stuck in your guidebook). There are lots of ’em, and they’re all old. Some are incredibly impressive: I still have a soft spot, of sorts, for Venus de Milo. Others, however, are utterly forgettable – vast collections of stone or metal that are important while falling short of stunning.

Visit Bruges, Belgium, and the rules change entirely.

Sure, there are plenty of statues, including a piece by Michaelangelo that somehow found its way out of Italy (this doesn’t happen much, to be honest). The interesting stuff isn’t sitting in churches or etched from stone. Rather, it’s built from a distinctly Belgian medium: chocolate.

I’m not joking.

Spend a few minutes in Belgium, and you’ll be bombarded by the sweet stuff (you’ll even be encouraged to stick some up your nose). There’s chocolate everywhere, and as I saw shortly after I hit the ground in Bruges, it’s even on display.

The local chocolate museum, Choco-Story, is home to quite a few of them – unsurprising, really, given that the propaganda exhibition museum has the tools and expertise necessary to make it happen. There are a few more elsewhere in the city, though, and you should keep an eye out for unique, interesting and tasty creations all over the cute little city.

Below, you’ll find five interesting chocolate creations, along with some guesses at what may have inspired them. In some cases, it’s a straight line from the real world to chocolate equivalent, but I will admit I stretched plausibility in a few places. Ultimately, the extent to which I may have fudged is up to you!

%Gallery-129173%

Here’s the one sign you have a CHOCOLATE ADDICTION

It’s 3 AM. You’re at the office, top button of your shirt released and tie loosened. You’re nowhere near finished for the night, and there’s a good chance you’ll see the rest of the company show up before you go home. So, you reach into the lower right drawer of your desk, take out your stash and do a quick, refreshing line off your desk. Exhilarating.

No, you don’t have to call Nancy Reagan on me to leave an acerbic comment below. I’m not talking about coke … I’m talking about cocoa. Chocolate.

We all know someone who loves chocolate, and there are always a few who take that tasty affair to a totally uncomfortable level. Well, when Christmas comes this year, you won’t have to try as hard. When I was in Bruges, Belgium a few weeks ago, I ran into the one gift that will appeal to the choco-holic in your life.
The Chocolate Shooter describes itself as “a blast of chocolate pleasure”. And it must be true … it says so on the box! This item, which is rather disturbing, provides chocolate in snort-able form, delivering a quick shot of dark Belgian magic when you need it most. Whether it’s brought out for parties or kept under a bottle of Johnnie Black at the office, this device really is essential for the most die-hard of chocolate fanatics.

But, you know that. Who else would this contraption appeal to?

If you aren’t disturbed yet, wait a minute. The designer of the Chocolate Shooter, Dominique Persoone, claims to have taught the Rolling Stones how to sniff the sweet stuff. Seriously. Maybe this is why Keith Richards is comatose – not the drugs (just kidding, mom).

If you need to pick up a Chocolate Shooter – because you’d rather contribute to someone’s problem than help resolve it – check out The Chocolate Line in Bruges. The store also has conventional chocolate treats, so you can reward yourself for feeding someone else’s beast.

Tour Belgium breweries by bike

A new Belgium bike tour will take you to the country's best breweriesCycling tours continue to grow in popularity as active travelers discover the joys of exploring a destination in a slower, yet very immersive fashion. Riders have the opportunity to take in more scenery, commune with nature, and interact more directly with locals, as they pedal their way through a variety of countries all over the world. But a company called ExperiencePlus! is putting their own spin on the cycling tour, offering travelers a chance to visit the best breweries in Belgium by bike.

Beginning and ending in Brussels, the 8-day tour will feature daily rides of 30 to 45 miles. The route will take the riders into the Flanders region in the first few days, before winding through the French-speaking Wallonia area near the end. Along the way, they’ll sample a number of popular beers in Bruges and visit historic breweries run by Trappist monks in the idyllic countryside. The tour will also pass through historic World War II battlefields as well, giving visitors a chance to experience history of a completely different kind.

Joining the riders will be Jeff Lebesch, founder and former owner of New Belgium Brewing, makers of the popular Fat Tire beers. Lebesch is himself a master beer brewer, and he’ll help introduce the riders to the wide variety of beers they’ll be sampling on the tour.

ExperiencePlus! says that this tour doesn’t require any special cycling skills nor do riders need to be in great shape. The terrain is described as “gentle,” which opens this particular tour up to just about anyone who would like to experience Belgium, and its beer, in a unique way.

I think this sounds like an incredibly fun tour and it sounds like it will appeal to a wide variety of travelers. After all, who doesn’t like bikes and beer? Lets just hope that they give you plenty of time to enjoy the latter before climbing back aboard the former. Make sure you have your travel insurance paid up before setting off on this one folks!

For more on this bikes and beers tour, click here.

[Photo credit: Brosen via WikiMedia Commons]

Across Northern Europe: Two to a bed in Bruges

There are many ways to end up sleeping with someone in a hostel bed but this was a new one for me.

Bruges, Belgium is a little city of 117,000 with about five million tourists on every cobblestone street so I was happy to find shelter at a hostel in the north part of town. My friend and I claimed beds in dorm room 10 and headed out for a long day of beer reconnaissance. Our exploration was as thorough as 8% alcohol levels will reasonably allow. It had been a good nine hours of diligent effort when we made it back to room 10.

Room 10 was darkened and filled with sleeping bodies, including one in my bed. My guidebook — which had been on top of my bed to hold the place — was now on top of my bag which had also been moved to the door. Naturally, reception was closed.

But the hostel bar was open and I staggered over there and asked the bartender what to do. He walked with me back to room 10 and observed that there was in fact someone else in my bed.

We went back to the bar and squinted at a computer spreadsheet. A group of nine had been split between rooms 10 and 11 and it appeared one of the fellas from room 11 had gone into room 10 instead. Sure enough there was an empty bed in room 11 and the barman gave me a key to the room and went back to pouring bier.

It was a comfy bed on the bottom of the bunk with a blanket of ideal weight. I was asleep for five minutes or an hour or a year when Stacey came into the room. I have no idea if her name was Stacey but we need a name for her.

“You’re in my bed,” Stacey observed in close proximity to my slumbering head. “You’re in my bed!”

“Shut up!” a guy in an adjacent bunk offered.

“I need to sleep and he’s in my bed,” Stacey clarified with a distinct Queensland, Australia accent.

I explained what had happened to Stacey and suggested she talk to the bartender. The bar was closed, she noted calmly and not at all drunkenly or annoyedly. It had reached the hour where even annoyedly was a word.

“I’m sorry, but this is the bed they gave me and it’s the only place I have to sleep and I’m not getting up,” I said.

Stacey curled up on the floor and proceeded the squirm audibly. “If you want to share you can,” I offered chivalrously. “That’s the best I can offer.”

And with that Stacey climbed into bed with her back to my back and her feet to my face. Sleeping with someone in a dorm-size bed is an act of skill, sleeping with someone in a dorm-size bed without touching them is an act of will.

I don’t often remember my dreams but I remember one from this night which I feel compelled to share. In it, I was sitting up in the bed while Stacey slept and since I didn’t know who she was I looked her up on Facebook and read through her profile. It seemed an odd way of learning about someone you were sharing a bed with. I don’t recall if her name on Facebook was Stacey but there is no accounting for the subconscious.

In the morning, Stacey and I were in much better spirits – though no thanks to each other, if you know what I mean – and both agreed that it had been no ones fault and we both behaved admirably. At breakfast she gave me a knowing smile and though she wasn’t as cute as her Facebook picture had made her seem, I hoped she’d share an undercooked egg with me and tell me her name and a few personal details I could put in this section of the story.

But instead she sat next to an American girl who had just been to Amsterdam. Reception was open now and they gave back my 17 euros. The hostel’s slogan is “party hard, sleep easy” but in Bruges the partying was the easy part.

###

Previously on Across Northern Europe:

  1. Shining a Light on Iceland
  2. Lonely Love on Iceland
  3. Iceland Gone Wild
  4. A Trip to the Airport
  5. Why Bother Going to Berlin?
  6. A Perishable Feast
  7. Globians Film Festival
  8. The Elusive Dutch Drivers License
  9. Terror in Berlin
  10. Authentic Belgian Beer

Brook Silva-Braga is traveling northern Europe for the month of August and reuniting with some of the people he met on the yearlong trip which was the basis of his travel documentary, A Map for Saturday. You can follow his adventure in the series, Across Northern Europe.