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Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Circle Tour of Beer & Chocolate

Hold onto your hats ladies and gentlemen for I am going to weave a vacation dream for you where I, (yes I) was the driver and He, (yes He) was the entertainer! Check out that darling Mini-Cooper, almost like my own sweet Lucy.




It all started a few years ago watching a great little show on the Travel Channel about beer trips in Belgium. Right then and there my Mr. Smith was ready to plan. And plan, we did. Our trip to Belgium was two years in the planning stages and two weeks of delicious fun. We faithfully scoured each and every city for the best Belgian beer and chocolate and wow oh wow were we successful!

Our little journey began in Phoenix on the first Saturday of April, traveling to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I believe I watched three movies on the way over. The best of the bunch was "The Monuments Men." I had missed it when it came out last year and I am so glad I saw it. This remarkably accurate movie shares the story of reuniting treasures of art with their native lands after Nazi takeover - most specifically the Alter Piece in Ghent and Michelangelo's Madonna and Child in Brugges.

We determined prior to leaving Phoenix that my smaller feet and Jeff's keen navigation combined to put me behind the steering wheel in Europe. Huzzah! First time ever for a vacation of this magnitude. Well... myself and Veronica! I loved her sweet voice with that pleasant British accent. She was all-knowing, so self-assured, and impossible to argue with. But Veronica drove us down a few dead-end one-way streets, took us through some unsavory intersections, led us through under-water tunnels back and forth, and encouraged us to avoid traffic jams and accidents. That's the short version. But I shake my fist at any GPS from now on. P.S. - thanks to my friend Ann Marie who suggested the automatic version over there. A manual tranny with Veronica might just have been a third level of hell for me.

First stop straight out of Amsterdam early on Sunday morning was the charming city of Delft. Our accommodations were a restored circus wagon formerly owned by Pippo, the Clown. It's like a tiny house without a kitchen- check it out.





This was the perfect first night's lodging within the Hotel de Emauspoort (www.emauspoort.nl) courtyard. Cozy and comfortable with a light drizzle outside and we were out by early afternoon. Breakfast here was a lovely little buffet with fresh breads, meats, cheeses, coffee, and juice.

Being a Sunday, much of the attractions of Delft were closed but we managed a nice walking tour and got our cameras warmed up.

This centrally situated New-Church is where William of Orange is buried.




And here you'll see some of the city's very cool architecture. 

The swans were out and about in the canals. 




The daffodils and tulips were blooming everywhere we walked.

Our favorite stop in Delft was the Brood Banketbakkerij where we tried local pastries and donuts. A little bit of chocolate and a whole lot of soft, fluffy goodness. I kinda wish there was one of these down the street from me here in Arizona. Heading to Delft? They are on Choorstraat at No. 9 in the downtown area just outside the Beestenmarkt. 

And on to Ghent, a city filled with art and beer and chocolate. Oh my. We stayed at the Ghent Marriott on the Lys River. Service here was impeccable - shout out to Frederic, who was exemplary at check-in. This renovated brick building held for us one of the most gorgeous views from our hotel room. The guildhouses on the canal were directly across - stately and historic. 







I had planned on trying mussels in Ghent as I had heard that they were delicious here. We stopped into a little place right on the canal and while Jeff enjoyed his pasta, I tried to finish off about 50 mussels. They were cooked au' natural which meant in water with celery and onions. Extremely delicious ... but 50?? The pot was enormous and though delicious, I just couldn't do it. 

English is widely spoken here and there is so much to see. We visited the Gravensteen Castle of the Counts located right near the center of town. It was built in 1180 and has had some renovations since and seemed quite the fortress. The trip to the top of the Sint Baafsplein Belfry, built in 1313, was a whopping 91 meters up. We chose not to use the elevator being the spirited folks we are and were rewarded with a panoramic view of the city. Please don't ask me how many feet 91 meters are, my American math brain can't do it. 



This guy and his pals used to fly over the top of the Belfry. 


The city scape of Ghent 


A lovely maiden outside St. Bavo's Cathedral 


St. Bavo's Cathedral 



Remember when I mentioned "The Monuments Men" and the Ghent Alterpiece? Well, it's housed here at St. Bavo's Cathedral. This majestic and monumental work of art by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck from the early 15th century is a site to behold. Twelve panels depict the "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" along with prominent biblical scenes. Photographs of this great work of art are not allowed, but I encourage you to check it out online. Wikipedia actually has a nice description and photos. To see this historic piece was pure joy for us. 



I love angels. 


Gorgeous sculpture of the Van Eyck brothers


Street Art... 


Crisps from Frituur Jozef ... Yum. 


Graffiti Street - Graffiti is everywhere! 






Ah, Mickey! 


Ghent is an amazing city with friendly locals, great food, spectacular art, and good shopping. We visited with a couple during a rain/hail storm while dining one evening. The scent of fresh mustard in a cute little mustard shop was intoxicating. The beer ... oh, the beer. We popped into several spots for Kaizer Karel Beer (my favorite) and loads of others. One of our favorites was Waterhouse on the Beer Front - it sits (yep) right on the waterfront and they serve beer!! Ultimately, Ghent had the very best hot cocoa of the entire trip. One of the gals at Starbucks (yep) pointed us in the direction of Huize Colette, a Chocolade en Boekenhuis (chocolate store and bookhouse.) The cocoa here was divine - sorta like drinking liquid pudding. I'm not kidding! And... we went back the next day for seconds and it was just as good. Hit them up if you are ever in Ghent. I mean, go to Belgium for sure, but stop into Huize Colette on Belfortstraat at No. 6.






Gorgeous guildhouses along the canal in Ghent

Trompe-l'oil in Ghent




Now I know that I told you that Ghent had the best hot cocoa, but Brugges was my favorite city by far. We stayed at the darling B & B Huis Koning (www.huiskoning.be) in the Ter Reie Room overlooking a sweet canal. 





This ideally situated B & B suited us perfectly - great hosts, clean comfortable bed and bath, and scrumptious breakfasts. We literally walked everywhere in Brugges sampling the beer, the food, the chocolate and could not have been happier. Here are some of our favorite pics from this wonderful city.



The serene canals of Brugges





Windmills along the canal


Local church art


Um... beer




Street Faire Food


They mate for life....



Stay out of the way of these guys!



Great hot cocoa here too!





Michelangelo's Madonna and Child 
This beautiful sculpture was also recovered by the U.S. Army after WWII.

I would visit this gorgeous city again in a hot second. The barbecued ribs, the pastries, the beer, the chocolate, the art, the people, and did I mention... the chocolate???

Our next stop was Cologne in Germany. We loved traveling along the ultra-fast highways between Belgium and Germany. Which, by the way - the European freeway system has it going on. A three lane freeway has a slower lane (to the far right), a speed limit lane (in the center), and a faster lane (on the far left.) It is illegal, truly illegal to pass on the right. This hierarchy of lane passing and traffic speeds is far superior to the darting in-and-out we see here in the states. I thought it would be hard to get used to, but found I loved it. Maybe I could start a trend here? A girl can only dream.

Cologne sits directly on the Rhine River in Germany and is as lovely as can be. We fell in love with mustard on the tables, ham knuckle, and the sound of the German language in our ears. Our daughter visited here several years ago and told us we'd love it and we did. 

The most inspiring cathedral we visited on this trip was here in Cologne. The church itself was gorgeous, but the treasury below level was filled with Bishop's Crosiers, Vestments, Crosses, Monstrances, Chalices, and Jewels. Additionally, the bones of the Magi are housed here. Truth. 

Here's the exterior of the Dom Cathedral in Cologne. 











Oh, and here's a pic of my empty cocoa mug. There must be a few dozen of these laying around after this vacation!


These little guys were working hard just outside the Cathedral. 



One of the other things we loved about Cologne was the Love-Lock Bridge over the Rhine. We strolled over and back enjoying the view. 















After Cologne we headed to Antwerp for two days. There was a fascinating museum of emigration in Antwerp and the old town area of Antwerp was filled with historic architecture, a lovely cathedral, and beer for days... We rode a an old carriage behind a few Belgian drafthorses too. 



Belgian Beer House



And Belgian Chocolates!


Antwerp Cathedral



Sir Rooden Hoed's Carriage


Our round-trip circle of beer and chocolate took us back to Amsterdam, a city we have visited before and love. The highlight in Amsterdam was our visit to the recently renovated Van Gogh Museum (www.vangoghmuseum.com.) I was fascinated to learn how Theo Van Gogh's widow worked to maintain the art and memory of Vincent Van Gogh. This is a don't miss museum in Amsterdam. Um... and the hot cocoa. When we visited last time I raved about the hot cocoa and after two weeks in Belgium I wondered if Amsterdam still held the high ranking. Let me tell you - "La Boutique del Caffe" on Jacob Van Campenstraat No. 38 was divine. Really truly divine. So yes, you can still have your art and hot cocoa too. 

There's a hundred things I've forgotten about this trip. That's a 56-year old mind for you. But one of the everlasting memories I hope I never lose were the city statues and tributes to Jesus' Mother, Mary. Not only inside the churches and cathedrals, but along the city streets, in alcoves, museums, and above the streetlamps. Hundreds, and all simply beautiful.
















This trip was magic - and I just wanna thank my husband for taking me across the Atlantic.
And forgive me for my meltdown in Houston. 




On tap.... WDW with the fam!!
:) Deb