Enchanting Bruges

Romantic Bruges at night

Romantic Bruges at night

To those who are hopeless romantics like me, there’s one city that never disappoints… Medieval Bruges in Belgium certainly has all the elements of a perfect romantic setting. A stroll through its narrow streets make you step back in time, its many canals are perfect for the moonlight boat ride with the melodies of Moonriver gently playing in the background.

I visited this city for the first time way back in 1997 and it is still a favorite after many trips thereafter. A week before Christmas, we were back again for the Christmas market and a much needed me-time after very busy months both on the home and work fronts.

Because Bruges is a very popular tourist destination, the weekend before Christmas is always very busy. Scouring the internet for hotel deals was quite a pain as even very small 2 or 3 star hotels were just too pricey at around the Eur 200+ price range. We found another option which turned out to be a great alternative — airbnb.com. We stayed for two nights at a renovated old house just a few yards away from the city centre. Weather was unusually warm (close to 10 degrees Celsius) so we enjoyed our evening walks without freezing.

Bruges by all accounts, has many things to offer — Chocolates and pralines, hand-woven laces, amazing choices of beers, etc.

The Mr. and me in Bruges

The Mr. and me in Bruges

Canals at night

Canals at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges

Bruges

Bruges

Bruges

Romantic canals and bridges

Romantic canals and bridges

Bruges

Bruges

Centuries-old buildings

Centuries-old buildings

One can explore the city on horse-driven carriage

One can explore the city on horse-driven carriage

Centuries-old buildings

Centuries-old buildings

Canals

Canals

A favorite bridge

A favorite bridge

Boat rides

Boat rides

Us

Us

Signage at the entrance of the Begijnhof

Signage at the entrance of the Begijnhof

The Begijnhof was the place where women and children stayed while the men went on to fight in the Holy Land during the Crusades.  Today, nuns are its residents.

The Begijnhof was the place where women and children stayed while the men went on to fight in the Holy Land during the Crusades. Today, nuns are its residents.

Inside the church in the Begijnhof

Inside the church in the Begijnhof

The market square

The market square

One of the many streets leading to the market square

One of the many streets leading to the market square

Chocolates and pralines for which the Belgians are known for the world over

Chocolates and pralines for which the Belgians are known for the world over

A few of the hundreds of beer choices

A few of the hundreds of beer choices

Belgian beer

Belgian beer

Belgian beers

Belgian beers

Beer flavored cheese

Beer flavored cheese

Beer-flavored eggnog

Beer-flavored eggnog

Belgian pralines

Belgian pralines

Cupcakes

Cupcakes

Horse-drawn carriages near the Begijnhof

Horse-drawn carriages near the Begijnhof

Bruges

Bruges

Hand-woven Bruges laces

Hand-woven Bruges laces

One of the many churches in the city

One of the many churches in the city

Us

Us

Christmas market in Dusseldorf (Germany)

After writing about the Christmas markets in Durbuy (Belgium) and Laren (Netherlands), here’s my take on the German Christmas market.

Hubby and I were in Dusseldorf this weekend, opting for a nearer destination (1.5 hours from our place) than driving all the way to Durbuy in the Ardennes which takes about 4 or even 5 hours depending on the traffic jams in Maastrict or Liege.

Dusseldorf was quite a revelation with the pleasant atmosphere and where everyone just seems to be in a happy mood.  Guys with Santa hats were singing loudly, could be the effect of drinking too much gluhwein.

It was very busy (it seems like we’ve chosen the busiest day of the year to be there with many doing their last-minute Christmas shopping) but it was just pleasant to see the Germans going to the Christmas market which is more of a family outing.

We hovered from stall to stall, curious of the merchandises on the German market scene.   There were plenty to choose from:  food stuffs, woodcrafts, clothing items, home decors, toys, etc.

There were long queues at gluhwein stalls.  A mug costs Eur 2.50 but a deposit of Eur 3.00 is charged for the special shoe-shaped mug.  This is the big difference with how gluhwein is served in Holland or Belgium which come in disposable plastic cups.  The gluhwein was pretty strong so I opted to remain sober by not drinking everything (though I was tempted to).

Our original plan was to have dinner in a nice restaurant but we got seduced by the various sorts of snacks from the various stalls.  We started with the German bratwurst, then it was off to the freshly made waffles topped with whipped cream and dusting of confectioner’s sugar.  Then I got temped to try the “dampfnudeln”, a sort of steamed bread topped with warm vanilla and cherry sauces after seeing a German family of four eating this with so much gusto.  Then, we saw this Dutch couple delightfully eating “reibekuchen” , the German potato pancake which is deep-fried and served with apple sauce.  Hmmm….I promised the hubby that I will check out the recipe and try this at home.  Yes, that’s how good it was.  Dinner plans in the end, got shelved.  We were stuffed but happy.

Dusseldorf is of course known as a shopping paradise.  Chic shops from Prada, Escada, Chanel, Michael Kors, etc….can all be found along Konigsallee.  Hubby reminded me of the Dutch saying, “alleen kijken, niet kopen” which is “just look, no buying”, ha, ha, ha!

Christmas Market in Durbuy (Belgium)

I love going to Christmas markets and one particular place which we have visited religiously over the years is the one in Durbuy.

Why this particular Christmas market?

Durbuy is a very small Medieval city located in the Ardennes, the more hilly part of Belgium. Normally, this place also gets snowed in earlier compared to Holland. We also love the quaint little towns in the area which are rich in history. Dining out there is also pleasurable for the Belgians know how to enjoy their food. That’s where the fundamental difference lies compared to the Dutch who can be happy with a simple fare of potatoes, some vegetables and meat with gravy.

Just as we are loyal patrons of Durbuy’s Christmas market, we also stay in the same place and same hotel — the Quartier Latin in Marche-en-Famene. This 4-star hotel which we discovered some years ago has nice rooms and a great restaurant. The wonderful menu comes with the territory – a French chef in residence.

Added to that, the inclusive buffet breakfast is always something to look forward to.

The nice thing about the Christmas market in Durbuy are the many lovely stalls to choose local delicatessen from the dried/smoked hams and sausages, delish pates and foie gras to the huge array of cheeses, breads, etc. Oftentimes, these stuffs are produced by the farmers themselves which spell the big difference compared to the commercially mass-produced ones that we get in the supermarkets and groceries.

When in Belgium in general, hubby is most times rendered indecisive by the hundreds of choices for beer which are produced by small and still very traditional breweries whose secret formulas and recipes can be traced back to the Middle Ages. How about that?

Restaurants in the Ardennes also feature quite unusual selections in their menus. Wild boar, deer, Guinea fowl, hare, rabbit and other wild meat are very common because the woodlands of the Ardennes is shelter to these creatures.

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Christmas market in posh Laren (Netherlands)

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On a short chat with my neighbor Anneloes, I learned of the Christmas market in Laren, a posh town some 15 kms. away. She was there last Saturday with her 3 kids who all had a great time. She told me that the market is also open on Sunday from 12pm onwards.

When I told hubby about it, he also got enthusiastic at the idea of going there. So off we went on Sunday and were pleasantly surprised at the nice and cozy Christmas atmosphere of the Christmas market which was set under a wooded park.

At the entrance of the market was a choir dressed up in Victorian England costume singing lovely English carols. There were all sorts of stalls selling goods ranging from food stuffs to clothing, Christmas decors, and cooking tools like smoking oven complete with demo. To most people especially the youngsters, the main attraction attraction was the ice skating rink.

My daughter got lured by the skating rink and insisted on trying skating herself. I was lured by the stall selling French delicatessen and ended up buying foie gras and some nice soft French cheeses.

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