Bruges


What can I say about Bruges that you don’t already know. It’s stupidly gorgeous. It’s full of cobblestone walkways and winding roads that open up into an array of courtyards. There are more Belgium chocolate shops in this one little town that all the coffee shops in Vancouver combined (I bet). On one street we counted four in a row. Four shops that sold endless combinations of Belgium chocolate. Simple milk chocolate squares, flavoured bricks with chilli or orange or coconut, elaborately decorated chocolates that looked like animals or people or beer (Belgium’s other favourite vice), blocks on sticks that could be stirred into frothed milk and sold as creamy hot chocolates to go: it was endless. It was amazing.

We spent our short time in Bruges finding the perfect balance between hot chocolate and beer. An afternoon hot chocolate in the square meant we could stop at the Halve Maan brewery for a quick pint. Then a taster at La Trappiste, a medieval, underground pub, meant we deserved a creamy hot chocolate for the walk home. It was a tough couple days. 

But the magic of Bruges isn’t in the beer or the chocolate. The best part of Bruges is the town itself. It’s the perfectly preserved homes. It’s the winding streets and slowly moving river. And there’s no way to really describe that. So I will let the photos tell the rest…

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Dreupelkot (Pol’s Bar)


There is a tiny bar, nestled along the riverside in Ghent called Dreupelkot. As a local or a tourist, this tiny, 20 person bar is the place to be in the city. The bar only sells one drink: Jenever. A juniper based liquor, Jenever is the national liquor of Belgium and the Netherlands. It is the alcohol from which gin evolved. 

but no Jenver in the country is quite like the stuff you find in Dreupelkot, where the Jenever comes in nearly 200 different flavours. Pineapple, mango or Blood Orange. Cactus, Pepper or Blackthorn. Elderflower, Tiramisu, or Chicory. The options are endless, and the owner makes many of them himself. 

“How do you even go about picking a flavour?” I asked the bartender.

“It’s better if you just tell me what flavours you like and go from there. Doesn’t matter what taste you prefer, we’ll probably have it.”

So we did. And we continued to do so, every day for our four days in Ghent. This was a local hangout and a tourist destination. We went there to sip on a shot or two of Jenever before starting our night. But we met locals that said this was their favourite last stop. They’d get a shot for the road and head home for the night. 

The bar is owned by a man named Pol. He’s pretty much a celebrity in the town. The bar is often just referred to as “Pol’s Bar” and his ruddy round face and big smile can be found all around the bar itself. If Santa Claus trimmed his beard back and had a massive cigar hanging out of his mouth, he’d look exactly like Pol: his rounded belly and beady eyes staring kindly behind shiny lenses. Pol is nearing his 80’s now, and the locals are already worried what will happen to the bar when he’s gone. Everybody loves Pol.

The pub is eclectically decorated. A collection of old shot glasses sit in a glass cabinet along one wall; newspaper clippings of Pol’s Bar from 30 years earlier hang on another. Old Jenever bottles scatter the bar tops and an empty cask serves as the one and only table, sitting perfectly in the middle of the small room. The place oozes with history. 

One night we were there Pol came in. Up until last year he used to man the bar himself, but now that he is older, he only comes in on occasion to check up. When Pol walked in with his big grin and red cheeks, the room changed. Whispers of “There he is! There’s Pol” echoed in the little bar. If we hadn’t already been standing, I bet the whole room would have gotten out of their chairs in a standing ovation. It was like seeing a legend. 

In all my times in bars, and I will admit there have been many, there has never been a more comforting and exciting feeling as Pol’s bar. It exudes a sense of tradition and familiarity and a place where locals and tourists alike can drink and have a good time. The shots are cheap, the liquor is incredible, and the vibe is always what you need. 


Ghent

You can’t find a city in Belgium more quaint than the old town of Ghent. Nestled along the banks of the rivers Leie and Scheldt, Ghent’s cobblestone walkways and steeped-roof buildings make for the perfect town to sit back and relax. The town is small. It’s a short walk to anywhere you need to go: restaurants, shops, or one of the many Jazz bars that scatter the city. It’s amazing to think that this quiet, riverside town used to be one of the largest and richest cities in Northern Europe. During the Middle Ages, Ghent was the capital of Flanders. It was a major trading route and one of the first Industrialized cities in Europe. But a revolt against taxes lead to war and the long trip down the river meant traders preferred the quick trip to Antwerp instead. It’s crazy how fast things can change. Ghent went from being one of the largest, profitable cities in Europe, to having nothing. Trading stopped, taxes doubled, the capital was stripped from them. The city became so poor it couldn’t rebuild itself. But as a result, time has stood still in Ghent… And that has made it beautiful.Ghent’s Korenmarkt is the heart of Old Town. Waffles are sold on nearly every corner. Big, sugary, Belgium waffles, topped with whipped cream and fresh berries. Mayo-covered, double-fried Belgium fries are just as prolific. They come with every meal. You can’t escape them. They are the most delicious fries in the world. 

All paths in Ghent lead to the riverside. Friends gather and lounge in the sunshine to sip on one of the million types of beer offered in the city. The beer in Belgium is one of a kind. No one is quite sure how many different kinds of beer the country has. Most believe it’s in the thousands. The beers are rich in flavour and many have alcohol contents so high they might as well be wine. One bar we stopped in served over 350 different types of Belgium Beer. The menu is like a small novel. It’s a good thing the bars here offer a “beer of the month” nearly everywhere, otherwise I’d have no idea where to start. 

Our arrival in Ghent marked the arrival of the Festival of Flanders, a 15-day music festival held each year. The city swells with people from all over the country who come to listen to the classical music performed along the Leie River. The soft singing of string instruments echo between the buildings and through the Korenmarkt. The music continued all day, and was topped off with a spectacular fireworks show on St Michael’s bridge. Our hostel was pretty much ON St Michael’s bridge, and so we watched the fireworks from the common room window. I have never in my life been so close to fireworks. We were right under the explosions . The lights surrounded the building we were in, sparks falling to the ground around us. It was unlike any other fireworks display I’ve seen.

It’s not hard to see why Ghent is one of Jodon’s favourite cities in the world. And even after two years of hyping it up, it definitely did not disappoint.