By Geri Bain & Jenny Keroack
Inspired by the grand tours of aristocrats past and the much more recent adventures of TV’s Gilmore Girls, 18 year old Jenny Keroack proposed that she and her mom, travel writer Geri Bain take their own grand voyage. This summer, she and her mother, travel writer Geri Bain, set off together to see as much of the Old World as thirty days would allow. Starting in London and finishing in Barcelona, they recorded their favorite places and activities. Jenny’s are in italics while Geri’s are in regular type. Read about their adventures, explorations and all the schleps in between. This is their report logged from Brussels.
We were happy to continue our love affair with Belgian chocolate and cuisine in Bruges. Only an hour by train from Brussels, the city exceeded our expectations for beauty. With lovely canals and grand squares, Bruges lives up to its nickname as “The Venice of the North.”
Medieval Bruges. This city was at its height in medieval days, when brightly painted and gold-trimmed buildings reflected the wealth of its people. Between 1200 and 1400, Bruges was one of the top economic trading centers in Europe. However, as its port silted over, its importance in declined. In a sense, time froze, thankfully making Bruges one of the best places in Europe to enjoy medieval architecture. Much of the brick Gothic architecture lining the canals and the imposing public edifices still stand. In fact, the entire historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site—and deservedly so.
A historic haven: Combined from three historic residences just steps from Burg Square, the 118-room Grand Hotel Casselbergh is filled with cozy nooks. Our “honeymoon suite” could only be reached by climbing a winding staircase. At the top, we were rewarded with a romantically spacious room with vaulted ceilings, lovely tapestries, plush velvety chairs and rooftop views. Other rooms, which are accessible by elevator with no need to climb stairs (important considering there is no porter service), are equally historic in feel with grand chandeliers and high ceilings, and equally grand bathrooms. We loved the intimate lobby bar with its posh sitting nooks, the generous breakfast, and the front desk staff, who helped with everything from dinner suggestions to printing out travel documents.
Dali in the Belfry: I often get tired of hearing rappers on the radio singing these songs about how great they are, in shameless displays of self-promotion. However, that kind of swaggering hubris is not unlike Salvador Dali, who once said: “At the age of three, I wanted to be a female cook. At seven, Napoleon. After that, my ambition just went on growing. I wanted to be Salvador Dali and nobody else.” Quotes like this can be found all over the Museum-Gallery XPO Salvador Dali, located in the center of Bruges. The exhibition, which was once temporary is now permanently installed in the historic Belfry of Bruges, due to popular demand. The exhibition, with tickets that can be upgraded to include a glass of Cava and a praline, reflects Dali’s surreal style in its décor, with brightly-colored peacocks, chandeliers that seem made of white Christmas lights and, of course, Dali’s own art work. As a Dali fan I was very excited for this exhibit, but it offers enough explanations so that even someone who had never heard of Dali could start to understand and appreciate his artwork.
Escargots, moules, and more: We met people from England, China, Japan and the U.S. and all had the same comment when asked why they came to Bruges: the beauty and the food, particularly, the moules which were in season. Jenny and I had to agree. We dined at two very different but equally memorable restaurants. The first, Den Dyver, was an elegant restaurant with a popular prix fixe dinner (€55 or €65) with an additional option of wine or beer pairings for each course (reservations strongly recommended). Here each new dish brought distinct flavors displayed on the plates like fine paintings. At the second, the Maria Van Bourgondie Restaurant, we sampled regional specialties such as goose liver pate with port wine jelly, moules frites (mussels with fries), and Dame Blanche, vanilla ice cream served with whipped cream and a small pitcher of hot dark chocolate.
A Chocolate Tearoom: A chocolate tasting “tea” is a must for anyone traveling through Bruges. My mom and I had ours at De Proeverie, which means ‘place for where you can taste” in Flemish. There, we had one of the most delightfully decadent meals of our lives. We ordered a tasting plate with an assortment of their best chocolates and a hot chocolate that you mix yourself by pouring liquid dark chocolate into warm milk. Even the glass of plain milk we ordered came with a bonus of additional chocolates on the side. It was definitely worth the calories. You can watch the chocolates being made across the street in its sister shop, Sukerbuyc. Among the oldest chocolate shops in the city, Sukerbuyc is renowned for its assortments of chocolates sold in edible boxes that look almost too beautiful to eat.
A Museum of Chocolate: Chocolate fanatics of all kinds will love Choco Story, Bruges’ Chocolate Museum. It has information, translated into multiple languages including English, on the origins of chocolate, how it became popular in Europe and how it’s made today. There are also some interactive screens and a video to make the information accessible for kids. However, my favorite part was a wall that dispelled/confirmed myths about chocolate such as that eating chocolate leads to acne (it doesn’t), that it can destroy tooth enamel (I don’t really understand why but actually, somehow it does the opposite) and that it’s an aphrodisiac (a qualified yes). I would recommend the museum for any chocolate enthusiast in Bruges.
Jenny Keroack (left) and Geri Bain
Geri Bain, a widely published travel writer and editor, has written about more than 60 countries and contributed to publications including inc.com, N.Y. Daily News and Robb Report. While travel editor at Modern Bride magazine, she wrote an acclaimed guide to Honeymoons and Weddings Away. She is a past president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editorial director of Endless Vacation magazine.
18-year-old Jenny Keroack wrote for the Observer Tribune from 2009 to 2012 and has been published in the Riverdale Press and Elegant Lifestyles. She was a researcher/blogger for the N.Y. League of Conservation Voters last summer and will be studying political science at the University of Chicago this fall.