Sunday, May 6, 2007

New Year's Eve in Belgium

My folks came over from Ohio to travel with us a bit after Christmas. We decided on Brugge, Belgium not only is it a UNESCO designated city (not just ‘site’), it is packed full of absolutely beautiful Medieval houses and buildings that, for some reason I never was able to figure out, were not destroyed by the bombs of WWII. All this is just a day’s drive from our place in Switzerland (about 7 hours).
We decided to take our time getting there, stopping in Luxembourg City on the way. It too is a beautiful city (in a wee-tiny country) and well worth a day or two for rambling around the pedestrian streets, shopping and eating.
On to Brugge, and New Year’s Eve. The city is walled and magnificently veined with canals; they call it the ‘Venice of the north’. Foot bridges crisscross over narrow canals and in-between remarkable structures.
Meandering (read: getting lost) is a great way to spend the day. We were on a budget and the baby-girls were restless and quite audible, so we opted most days for street food, which in Brugge means pommes frites (French fries) and mayonnaise. Sounds gross but oh baby are they good!
When we travel, almost without exception, we rent apartments, rather than staying in hotels (unless it is just the Mr. and I, then we splurge on a posh sort of spot). Read more about renting apartments when you travel in my article ‘Affordable Family Travel’.
So, we head back to our pied a terre stopping in the neighborhood seafood shop on the way. It is spotlessly clean, absolutely tiny with enough room for just four customers at a time with gleaming, fresh fish lining the ice-filled cases.
For New Year’s Eve dinner, I opted to serve a cheese platter early on (from the neighborhood cheese store that was a treat for the eyes and a jolt to the nostrils), a wild mushroom tart and herb salad for starters and the piece de resistance was unbelievably fresh (as in, you-can-still-smell-the-salt-water fresh) crab claws from the very nearby North Sea. I can’t pronounce what they were called there in Flemish, but back in the States they are Stone crab and they are glorious. I made a very straightforward tomato-lemon-caper cocktail sauce to go with. I didn’t want to serve anything too heavy, as we would be eating late and probably falling asleep very soon after.
We ate, laughed, drank great champagne then the Mr. and I and all four kids fell asleep at about 11pm. Grammy and Grampy stayed up until well past midnight, joining in the revelry out in the Brugge Market Square for singing, music and fireworks.
We had a wonderful time, but I’ve heard Brugge is even better in the summer. If you like history, architecture, fresh seafood, French fries and chocolate Brugge is not to be missed, in any season.

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