Bruges: 7 Reasons The ‘Venice Of Belgium’ Is Worth Visiting

Anna Brones

The only memory I had of the Belgian city Bruges was thanks to the black comedy film “In Bruges,” where the city is more or less equated to some form of purgatory. The only image I had retained was a grey, misty and dismal city with not much going for it.

Not the case.

An easy day trip from Brussels, Bruges is worth your time, and not just if your obsessed with waffles. If you’re lucky, the sun will be out and you’ll find out exactly why this picturesque European town is called the “Venice of Belgium.”

Anna Brones

1. It’s a bicycle heaven, reminiscent of other bike capitals like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, only smaller and much more manageable. There are several bike rental operations in town as well as bike tours.

2. You can eat your weight in waffles. However, although waffles are easy to find, not all are created equal. Make sure you buy yours from a place that makes their own batter and makes the waffles right in front of you instead of heating them up.

3. Nothing is more classic than the rooftops of Bruges, and the city is perfect for anyone interested in architecture.

%Slideshow-752%

4. Bruges is on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Thanks to its Gothic center, there’s plenty to explore from the Belfry, dating back to the 1200s, and the Burgh square in front of town hall.

5. You can dive into the world of Belgian beer on pretty much any corner. If you’re a beer connoisseur you better get ready; the options are endless and it’s good to choose carefully. Here’s a good roundup of a few of the best.

6. It’s quainter than Brussels. Yeah, I said it, and although most of Bruges looks like it could be the subject of a postcard collection, you never get the feel that it’s overly touristy. There are just as many Belgians out for a day trip on weekends as foreigners.

7. You can tour the city by boat. There are few cities that are lucky enough to be built around canals (hello, Venice) and snagging a boat tour is a perfect way to explore all the ins and out that Bruges has to offer. So when you’ve had enough of walking or riding, track down a canal tour.

Fine dining in Antwerp

fine dining in AntwerpFor such a small country, Belgium certainly has contributed to world cuisine. French fries, for example, are actually Belgian, making that whole “freedom fries” movement back in 2003 even stupider than it appeared. They also gave us Belgian waffles, although over here they’re called “Brussels waffles” after the capital. And let’s not forget about Belgian chocolate!

I’ve been exploring Antwerp, a wealthy city with hardworking inhabitants who like to splash out on fine food. Here are four restaurants worth a visit. Office casual attire is the rule here. Entrees range from about 15-25 euros ($20-28) except at Flamant Dining, where they’re a bit more.

My first night I dined at Brasserie Appelmans. This restaurant and absinthe bar only a few steps from the cathedral in the heart of historic Antwerp is popular with both tourists and locals. It’s strange to go from the Gothic spires and 17th century facades outside to modern minimalism inside. Through dim lighting you see a split-level plan with little décor besides mirrors, exposed brick and woodwork, and candlelit black tables.

For a starter I had an incredibly rich tomato soup with fresh cream and meatballs. It was almost filling enough for a main, but I managed a big bowl of Antwerp stew with veal prepared with Grimbergen Dubbel beer and served with thick-cut Belgian fries and salad of white cabbage, celery, and cherry tomatoes. After a long day’s walking and with the winter chill setting in for the evening, it certainly hit the spot.In keeping with the décor of the restaurant, the absinthe bar is dim and chic. It looks very popular and they had a large variety of absinthes but I didn’t partake. I can get absinthe at home in Spain and it’s not the thing to drink alone, certainly not alone in public. Both the restaurant and bar are busy by 7pm, as are many places here. Living in Spain I find Belgians to be early eaters!

Another fine restaurant is Felixpakhuis. Located next to the redeveloped docklands and the famous Mas Museum, it has a spacious and bright interior that gets quite loud as it fills up. Again bare wood and minimal decoration is the rule, although this time the colors are light instead of dark. For starters I ordered pumpkin soup with scallops followed by the Coc au vin. Both were well done and I appreciated the more casual atmosphere than you get in many high-end Belgian restaurants. While service was good at all the places in this post, the waitstaff at Felixpakhuis were the friendliest and quickest of them all. Make this your stop after seeing the Mas.

For those seeking the high end, try Flamant Dining, a restaurant on the first floor of the equally exclusive Les Nuits hotel. This is not a place you’ll stumble upon; locals have to tell you about it. It has a more intimate feel than the others, with a roaring fireplace and fine but minimal décor. I started with crispy goat cheese in a pig’s cheek spring roll with sweet red onion cream. For the main I had Australian filet pur grain fed with a pepper sauce, green salad, and Pont Neuf potatoes. Both were cooked to perfection, the pig’s cheek dissolving sweetly in my mouth. I found the pepper sauce a bit strong and overbearing on the excellent filet, but scraping a bit off solved this.

Another well-known and popular place is the Dome, which is a restaurant, a bistro, and bakery all within sight of each other. I had lunch at the bistro, a less formal and quicker option than the actual restaurant. A long aquarium took up one wall and windows took up much of the rest of the space, so between the fish and the Art Nouveau mansions outside I had plenty to look at during my meal. The chef brought out a series of small portions, including mackerel with mustard vinegar, scallops with pumpkin sauce and salad, spicy calamari (perhaps too spicy for some), and swordfish a la plancha with butter sauce. I’m a land lubber and rarely order seafood, yet I thoroughly enjoyed and finished everything. The restaurant, where you eat under a large neoclassical dome, is more formal and is hugely popular with the locals. The bread from the bakery is excellent.

The only criticism I have of Belgian cuisine from my limited experience on two trips to the country is that it’s too heavy. My appetizers were always too filling, yet too tasty not to finish. I saw very few small or light appetizers listed on menus, and when the hearty main course was set before me, all thoughts of dessert disappeared. Considering that many desserts included Belgian chocolate, this shows just how stuffed I was!

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Lowdown on the Low Countries.

Coming up next: Masterpieces in Silver!

This trip was partially funded by Tourism Antwerp and Cool Capitals. All opinions, however, are my own.

Gadling’s rankings of hotel breakfast buffet foods

gadling hotel breakfast buffet bacon sausage

One of the magical things about staying at a hotel is enjoying the breakfast buffet. At home, you might just have a bowl of cereal, a banana or a cup of coffee for breakfast. Heck, many people just skip breakfast. Does it mean nothing to you that it’s the most important meal of the day? At hotels, however, you can indulge in all of your breakfast fantasies. Rather than studying a diner menu while agonizing over whether you’re craving the sweetness of french toast or the savory goodness of eggs, you can have it all at the breakfast buffet. How you attack the buffet is critical to maximizing your enjoyment. That’s why we’re here with our official rankings of all of the hotel breakfast buffet foods.

The Unquestionable Top Five

1. Bacon

Because it’s bacon. When I was a kid, my mother limited how often we could have bacon. It was a treat. At the hotel breakfast buffet, however, you can have an entire plate dedicated to just those salty, succulent strips. And that plate can be refilled.

gadling hotel breakfast buffet foods fruit2. Fruit

Bet you didn’t see that coming! Fruit, when purchased individually from a menu, can be expensive. Restaurants will rip you off if you just want a bowl of fruit and yogurt. At the buffet, however, you can go to town on some fruit like some sort of crazed monkey. Adding fruit to your plate helps you justify the amount of bacon you plan to consume. If you’ve traveled a great distance, fruit is also an excellent way to prevent scurvy.

3. Omelet Station

Omelets are tricky to make at home because we often don’t have all of the ingredients to truly do them justice. How many times have you found yourself with eggs but no cheese? Or eggs and cheese but no vegetables? Or eggs, cheese and vegetables but no frying pan? Plus, flipping omelets is tricky. That’s why it’s best to just let someone else do it for you while you hover over them and realize that watching someone make an omelet is pretty boring. Maybe just use that time to get yourself some juice.

4. Waffles

This refers only to waffles that you can freshly make on a waffle maker. Firstly, you feel satisfied knowing that you prepared part of your own breakfast. You can survive anywhere! Secondly, you’ll be able to top your waffle with syrup, powdered sugar, butter, fresh fruit and nuts. Sure beats those Eggos that you normally toast up!

5. Assorted Breads

At home, you might have some bread that you can toast up. It’s OK but nothing special. At the hotel breakfast buffet, your cup runneth over with bread options (tip: don’t put your toast in a cup). Muffins, sliced breads with multiple grains, croissants (both mini and standard sizes), bagels, rolls and the holy grail of buffet breads, biscuits. Grab as many butter packets as you can fit in your pockets and carbo load like you’re running a marathon. But, remember what your mother used to warn you: Don’t fill up on bread.

The Questionable Remainders

gadling rankings hotel breakfast foods eggs6. Eggs

Here’s where things get tricky. Buffet scrambled eggs suck more often than they don’t. They’re always bland, often overcooked and occasionally just loose disasters. Our advice: skip the scrambled eggs. If you really want scrambled eggs, however, and there’s an omelet station, we recommend that you ask the omelet sommelier to prepare you some freshly scrambled eggs. Plus, you can ask for omelet items in your scramble. Win-win!

Hard boiled eggs are a nice treat because preparing them at home is just not that enjoyable. They make your kitchen smell, you get shells everywhere and there are more exciting things to do with your eggs. But when ready-to-eat hard boiled eggs are just presented to you, you best take advantage. All other eggs dishes such as frittatas and quiches should be judged on a case by case basis.

7. Sausage

Like eggs, sausage at hotel breakfast buffets can be a mixed bag (tip: decline all offers of mixed bags of sausage). Avoid sausage patties. You’re not at the hotel breakfast buffet so that you can replicate the experience of eating at McDonald’s. As for links, always take a close look to see how shriveled they are. If they look dehydrated, walk away. You want the casing to pop in your mouth, but you want that to lead to a juicy explosion. Dry sausage is not your friend. Besides, your bacon serving should eliminate the need for sausage.

8. Cereal

You can eat this at home!

9. Oatmeal

Unless the buffet is free, don’t get oatmeal. If you’re paying for the buffet, you already threw health out the window. Put down the raisins and start enjoying life.

10. Potatoes

Like the scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes at a hotel buffet tend to be underwhelming. Often, they’re just a big batch of mushy, bland starch disappointment. If you’ve handled your bread decision properly, you don’t even need potatoes.

11. Pre-cooked Pancakes

Bland hockey pucks served with packets of “pancake syrup.” I know that you think that you love Aunt Jemima, but she’s a cruel mistress and you deserve better.

The next time you’re staying at a hotel and wake up hungry, we hope that you’ll remember these handy rankings. Whether you’re on vacation, a business trip or anything in between, you need fuel when you’re on the road. Start your day right at the breakfast buffet. The decisions you make in front of those chafing dishes may just save your life.

Undiscovered New York: Satisfying your sweet tooth

New York is under attack by cupcakes. Giant, fluffy cupcakes, gobbed with sickeningly sweet frosting and dumptruck-sized helpings of candy on top. One moment, Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City is chowing down on one, and the next, our fair city is awash in an unstoppable tidal wave of buttercream and sprinkles – it almost makes you want to go into a sugar coma.

Like cupcakes or loathe them, they’re a symptom of a much larger fact – New York is and always has been a sugar lover’s paradise. From the moment William Frederick Havemeyer founded what was to become the Domino Sugar Company in 1799, the city’s tastes were inextricably linked to this sweet, grainy substance. But even though Domino closed it doors in 2001 and Red Hook’s Revere Sugar Refinery met the wrecking ball in 2007, New York is still very much a sugar lover’s city.

And though we find ourselves in the midst of “cupcake craziness,” it would be a shame to forget the many other divine desserts, sublime sweet shops and bountiful bakeries that New Yorkers are spoiled with every day. Does chocolate make you weak at the knees? Looking for a candy “blast from the past?” Want to try some quirkier sweet fare like Belgian Waffles? Step inside Undiscovered New York’s guide to “Satisfying your sweet tooth.”
In New York, Dessert Comes to You!
Forget getting in a taxi or strenuous activities like walking – sweets are a food best consumed while relaxing. Perhaps that’s why one of New York’s many mobile “dessert trucks” can be a godsend. OK – they don’t literally come to you, but they do move around, offering dessert lovers across the city a chance to sample some first-rate goodies while they’re out and about.

Anyone who’s craving a Liege or Brussels-style Belgian waffle should search out the Wafles and Dinges truck. This roving truck serves some of the most authentic Belgian treats anywhere in the city. They come topped off with a range of awesome toppings, or “dinges,” ranging from fresh fruit, whipped cream and nutella. You can find the truck’s next location by checking out their website or on Twitter.

Another strong contender for best sweet-serving truck is the Dessert Truck. Not only do you get to enjoy your dessert al fresco, their selection is ever-changing and totally delicious. How about some Molten Dark Chocolate Cake, Brioche Doughnuts or Coffee Mousse? And all for only $5-6. Yes please.

Getting Your Sweets Old-School
Candy is a food that is inevitably associated with the carefree days of childhood. If you’re looking to relive those days of old (if even for just an hour), head to Economy Candy on New York’s Lower East Side. The store is one of the last holdouts of the old neighborhood, first opening its doors to sugar-lovers everywhere in 1937. In addition to a huge selection of bulk candy, licorice and chocolate, Economy also stocks quite a few old-school candy favorites, including candy buttons and Big League Chew. How’s that for sweet nostalgia?

And did you know Brooklyn also has its own brand of gum? OK, it was actually created in Italy in the 1950’s – but you’ve got to admit there’s something pretty neat about a city with its own brand of chewing gum. The tiny packs bearing the iconic bridge logo have become a cult favorite among Borough residents. Head to Brooklyn and see if you can find a pack.

Ice Cream Lovers, Unite
Who doesn’t love ice cream? Alright, maybe the lactose-intolerant. But truth be told, New York is a great city for frozen treats, whether you like the good old-fashioned American stuff or something a bit more international. Chinatown visitors will want to stop by the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory where they can sample exotic flavors like Wasabi, Durian and Zen Butter (?!). Italian gelato fans are in the right place too. Discriminating customers of Italian stuff swear by Ciao Bella, and straight from Rome upstart Grom.

If you’re looking for something more “All-American,” head to the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge for the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory which specializes in classic all-natural flavors. Last but not least, for a TRUE New York ice cream experience, grab a cone from Mister Softee – their chocolate-dip soft serve is a favorite summer treat.