Monday, August 17, 2009

Love and Chocolate in Brugge

I can honestly tell you that as a woman, there is definitely some chemical reaction that happens to a girl when she eats choocolate. It's a soothing, zen-like breath of richness that creates a moment of inner peace. It's so good that we go back, over and over, for more with no regard to the amount of additional sit-ups or minutes on the treadmill we have added to our life. For that one minute, calories do not count and we are one with the candy.

When I was asked to travel to Brugge, Belgium to do a simple story on a chocolatier, I knew that it was going to be beautful and delicious... and it was.

I flew into Belgium after a few fabulous days working on another project in Barcelona, Spain. I flew Brussels Airlines, which reminded me a lot of JetBlue - minus the Satellite TV at every seat. My ticket was booked in their "light" service, which meant a cheaper fare in exchange for less luggage. Meaning, I could only take one suitcase and one carry-on.... that's it. You did not even have the option to pay for another bag. Thank goodness I packed light.

I landed in Brussels at around 8:45pm and headed right to baggage claim to retrieve my luggage. Brussels National Airport is very easy to navigate and after a few days in Spain, I was relieved to hear the English speaking over-head announcements.

I caught a train on the lower level of the airport to Brussels Midi rail station where I could then catch my train to Brugge. The trip from the airport to Brussels Midi was around 20 minutes and cost 3 EUR.

I ordered my ticket to Brugge online from Rail Europe and it was delivered to me by mail. If you have some time to spare, be sure to purchase your ticket at the rail station so that you do not have to pay the hefty shipping fee. I paid $30 for that convenience. Also, I booked a first class ticket for $38 each way and I would recommend just paying $25 for the second class fare. In other areas of Europe, the class of service really makes a difference. However, on these trains all of the cars look alike and just bring a power bar and some water instead of paying a little more for the same thing on this train.

The ride to Brugge from Belgium was about 80 minutes. It was fast, relaxing and really quiet. I think there were only 4 other people in the car that I was in. It was the perfect way to take a breath and get ready to experience another European city.

I got off the train in Brugge and walked out the main door to a line of Mercedes Benz taxi cabs waiting in line to take me to my hotel. I quickly jumped into the car and we made our way into the gates of the small city. As soon as we came upon the main square, my eyes widened and I knew that I just stumbled upon something very special. It was almost 11pm at night and I could still see the charming elegance of this Medieval city glistening in the night.

I was excited to check into The Pand Hotel here in Brugge. I had checked the website before I left the hotel and it looked really nice. This 18th Century Carriage house is now a boutique hotel with only 26 bedrooms. My room was on the first floor which could be reached by a very tiny elevator or a very narrow winding staircase. Kind of a pain to get my luggage up and down, but charming and well suited for the surroundings.

The next morning, I met the TJ working on this project, Brian Knappenberger, for breakfast in their dining room. The staff quickly offered me some fresh juice, breads and cheeses. They also offered fresh fruit and yogurt, cereals and egg dishes all served on white table cloths with sparkling silver tea service.

After breakfast we jumped in a Mercedes Taxi and headed out to Carline Chocolate factory to start the shoot. Katrigne, the chocolatier was meeting us there and would be showing us the secrets of creating Belgian chocolate. She actually works for the US distributor of the chocolate and you can order them directly through Nirvana Chocolates located in New England.

As soon as I walked onto the factory floor, I felt a tingle of that chemical reaction. You could actually smell the chocolate as soon as you walked in the front door. One breath in and I knew I was in heaven.

So, what makes Belgian chocolate so irresistible? The Belgians pride themselves on creating the richest (without being too rich), highest quality, most natural chocolate. They do not use any preservatives and they also pride themselves on only using cocoa butter.

With full tummys in tow, we made out way back to Brugge to tour the city. Brugge has this fairy-tale quality to it. Castles and bell-towers standing over cobblestone squares and horsedrawn carriages creating the perfect clippity-clop soundtrack as you walk the narrow streets. Be sure to give yourself a day to explore and another day just to relax and enjoy.
One thing is for certain, you will have plenty of chances to buy chocolate. I loved The Chocolate Line where Belgium's answer to Emeril Lagasse, Dominique Persoone, reigns as chocolate master. His creations range from nut infused bars to the wacky chocolate covered cauliflower to the choco-tequila shot. Think thats crazy? He also developed sniffing chocolates for a famous US Rock Band. Yes, sniffing chocolates and yes, that means you put it up your nose.

The food in Belgium was good... loads of frittes, Belgian Wafles (using only one "f" - not two like we do here) and beer. I tried a cherry beer which was a perfect while sitting out over the string of canals that wind throughout the city.

There is a legend in Brugge that says that if you see the swans swimming on the canals, that you will experience love in your lifetime. I definitely fell for Brugge and walked away completely smitten with Belgium. I found the people to be friendly, travel easy and the food yummy. Was it the swans or was it just a chemical reaction to all that chocolate? Who cares...

Travel On.

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