A weekend in Brugge
Three weeks ago I returned to London from a trip to Belgium to visit my dearly missed Lebanese-Slovakian friend Jess (you know her from the blog posts I wrote during our time at the UWC in Hong Kong). It was a short 3-day trip filled with a lot of walking, chocolate munching and a best-friend catch up of previously unknown magnitude to both of us. Goodness… the things that happen when you are apart from your best friend for a few months. Jessie is currently studying Veterinary Medicine in a small town named Kosice, in Slovakia that houses one of the largest universities for veterinary medicine in Europe. Because it had been so long since we managed to see each other, we agreed on meeting somewhere in the middle of both of us: Belgium it was. After a lovely train ride on the Eurostar (may trains be blessed, because getting to King’s Cross and then to Brussels saved me almost three hours of travel time I would have had extra, had I chosen to fly).
With none of us having a Belgian SIM card and Brussels not being so generous with free Wi-Fi, finding each other at Brussels Zuid station was a long and exciting process. After having walked around the entire station, I gave up and let myself and my hurting feet melt away on a chair in front of a small coffee shop. Just a few minutes later I felt a squishy hug and I knew it was Jessie. It was like we had never been apart and like we both had brought our Hong Kong bond to Europe. We giggled, laughed and hugged a lot and then made our way to the little micro-apartment we had rented in the Arab part of town. Past falafel shops, shawarma stands and lively restaurants we entered a little street covered in beautiful graffiti and street art, pick up our keys from the café next door and put down our suitcases in the remarkably tiny (tiny, tiny!) apartment that we would call home for the next days. Brussels struck us with its multicultural population, it’s slightly cold atmosphere and it’s warm waffle shops and crèperies that provided a stark contrast to our expectations of this European Capital.
My favorite day in Belgium was without a doubt the one that we spend in Brugge. “Somewhere within the dingy casing lay the ancient city,” wrote Graham Greene of Brugge, “like a notorious jewel, too stared at, talked of, and trafficked over”. It is one of the most perfectly preserved medieval cities in western Europe and its intimate, winding streets, picturesque cobbled lanes, woven around a skein of dreamy canals and lined with gorgeous ancient buildings, live up to to my childhood fairy-tale dreams. I fell in love with it. We walked around, took in the beauty of the biscuit-tin buildings flanking the central market place, and admired the charming architectural chorus they created. The old post office, which hogs the east side of the square, is a thunderous neo-Gothic edifice that refuses to camouflage its modern construction. The soaring historic churches, gabled buildings and horse-drawn carriages gave a colourful contrast to the endless array of chocolate shops. Bruges has 50 chocolate shops, but just five where chocolates are handmade on the premises. Of those, the Chocolate Line, is the brightest and best. Wildly experimental flavours by ‘shock-o-latier’ Dominique Persoone include bitter Coca-Cola, Cuban cigar, wasabi and black olive, tomato and basil; it also sells pots of chocolate body paint (complete with a brush). We ate our way through the town, buying and tasting every form of chocolate we could find: chocolate bars, chocolate fondant, chocolate spread, hot chocolate spoons, fruits in chocolate…
We had dinner at Lizzie’s Waffles, one of the most famous waffle shops around and it did not fall short of amazing us in any way: the waffles came in the size of an A3 paper with an endless variety of topics and a scale of melted chocolate dips ranging from white chocolate to bitter chocolate that was almost entirely black. I ordered a hot chocolate which came in the shape of a beautiful chocolate rose petal filled with chocolate shavings that needed to be dropped in the hot and foaming milk. It was perhaps not only the most delicious hot chocolate I had ever had, it was also the most visually appealing one. It’s not every day that you get to watch a sweet sugary rose petal disintegrate into a delicious and warming drink.
Our time in Brugge ended at the Lake of Love tucked away at the southern end of Bruges in the heart of the beautiful area known as “Minnewater”. It was a serene and peaceful park filled with lush greens, exotic plants and a group of beautiful white swans gently floating by. We threw in coins, made a wish and then watched the swans bathe their white weathers in the dark green waters of the lake until the sun set behind one of the medieval castles that was nestled between wheeping willow trees at the sandy shore of the lake. The legend surrounding Minnewater tells the story of a young and pretty girl named Minna who was in love with Stromberg, a warrior of a neighbouring tribe. Her father did not agree with her love and arranged her to marry a man of his choice. Minna escaped and ran into the forest. When Stromberg finally found her, she died in his arms of exhaustion. The lake was named after their love story and promises eternal love to the lonely souls who feed the swans and to the couples who share a kiss on the bridge. Jessie and me we couldn’t help but giggle about the fact that the hopeless romantic hiding inside us was inexplicably excited about the possibility that perhaps Minnewater lake would be the key facilitator in our quest for love. Well… to be honest with you, I actually did find love that day – not in the form of a kind and handsome man, but in the form of a dreamy medieval town that took my imagination centuries back and inspired me to continue writing poetry and novels. Who knows, maybe one day I will be brave enough to share it with you guys. In the meantime, you can find me munching my way through the pile of chocolate I brought to London with me.