Our Christmas Eve in Brugge began with breakfast together and then a walk round the market square to buy some presents for each other. It was a cloudy day and cool, with the temperature hovering around 8C.
Belgium is famous for a number of things and they are all available here in Brugge. The obvious one is chocolate and there are dozens of shops that sell beautiful products that are packed in lovely boxes and colourful tins. Belgium’s association with chocolate goes back as far as 1635 when the country was under Spanish occupation shortly after chocolate had been first brought to Europe. By the mid-18th century, chocolate had become extremely popular in upper and middle class circles, particularly in the form of hot chocolate. From the early 20th century, Belgium was able to import large quantities of cocoa from its African colony, the Belgian Congo, although Belgium’s colonies. By 1900, chocolate was increasingly affordable for the Belgian working class. According to one study, Belgium first started to export more chocolate than it imported in the 1960s, with exports of “Belgian chocolates” growing exponentially since 1980.
The second is fine lace products. Many Belgian artists were experimenting with artistic fabrics around the year 1400. In the beginning, the main kinds of lace were bobbin lace (using bobbins) and needle lace (using needles). Many new variations would be created in the centuries to come. In the early 20th century, there were approximately 47,000 lace makers in Belgium. Around 70% of these worked in Bruges, which led to the founding of the Bruges Lacemaking School in 1911. Girls from 14 and up were taught about lace, but also received lessons in religion, arithmetic, trade and political economics. They made lace fringes for men’s and women’s clothing, as well as entire christening dresses, special collars and cuffs. Other lace creations were often framed behind glass. Later would come the introduction of machine-made lace — however, this was but a cheap alternative for sophisticated, traditionally made lace.
Thirdly, Belgian beer comes in more labels than you can poke a stick at! It comes in many forms – amber ales, lambic beers, Flemish red ales, sour brown ales, strong ales and stouts. In 2016, there were approximately 224 active breweries in Belgium These included international companies, as well as traditional breweries such as the Trappist monasteries. On average, Belgians drink 84 litres of beer each year, but this is down from around 200 each year in 1900
Finally, there are the very tasty waffles. Belgian waffles have a lighter batter, larger squares, and deeper pockets than other waffles. They were originally leavened with yeast, but baking powder is now often used. They are often eaten as a breakfast food; toppings vary from whipped cream, confectioners sugar, soft fruit, and chocolate spread, to syrup and butter or margarine. They are also served with vanilla ice cream and fresh fruit (such as strawberries) as a dessert.
One way, our another, we tried all these products as we shopped and walked around the Christmas Market.
We found one of the operators who provide boat tours along the canal and signed up for a ride. It took about 30 minutes to go along the central portion of the inner canals and past some of the places that we had already seen on foot.
We decided on just a light lunch as we were looking forward to a splendid dinner at our hotel. Cathy, the girls and I walked north to the main canal that encircles Brugge. This was once a defensive moat around the town and there were a number of gates that controlled entry into the city.
On the way, we came across a little ‘common’ that was reported to be an area where sheep graze. It was described as a secret treasure for tourists, however there weren’t any sheep there. I don’t know whether they were just on holidayer or maybe they were at the butchers being made ready for Christmas dinner.
Most houses have some form of Christmas decoration. Some are decorated with flashing lights and others with a simple wreath on the door. These certainly added to the spirit of Christmas and made us feel very positive about being here.
Once we reached the main canal, we found four large windmills. Only one is original. One is a reconstruction and the other two have been relocated from other places to show the various types of windmills that were once commonly used for grinding corn and grain.
Back at the hotel, we changed for dinner and joined he crowd in the restaurant for a fabulous buffet meal. While the main courses were excellent, the deserts were just fantastic
Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve here, as it is in many European countries. We weren’t quite sure why but the answer became more clear when Jill was talking to a shopkeeper. Jill explained that In Australia, our main Christmas celebration was on Christmas Day. The lady in the store was somewhat surprised, explaining that Jesus was born on Christmas Eve, hence the timing of the celebration here in what is a strong Roman Catholic country.
Next to us at dinner, was a local family of nine people who were giving presents to each other during their meal. We had lots of fun looking on and trying to guess what each present might have been as they were being opened. At the end of the meal, we wished them a Merry Christmas and they were quite astounded that we had traveled from Australia to have Christmas in Brugge. Thankfully, our body clocks have now adjusted to local time and we left happily for bed at 10.00 pm completely sated having had a very enjoyable day.
Today, Christmas Day was clear, sunny and cold. The minimum overnight temperature was down to -1C and it was only 2C at 9.00 am when we all met in the girl’s room to exchange our gifts. (Audrey and Violet wanted to stick with our Australian tradition of giving presents on Christmas morning). Needless to say, they were pretty much all chocolates and lace hankies but we had fun buying them and giving them to each other.
After breakfast, we again walked around the Christmas Markets and were surprised that so many stalls and shops were open on Christmas Day. The guide books that we had read described Bruges as being ‘dead’ on Christmas Day, but this was not at all the case. Although still morning, we decided that it was late enough for another mulled wine in the Market Square. Cathy took the girls for a carriage ride around the town.
Leaving Jill near the hotel, we then walked through the old town to Minnewater Park where a small weir holds back the water in the canals. It was a pretty place with nearly as many white swans as there were people. They were quite unperturbed by the crowds of people. We all remarked that it was a very different Christmas being so cold and being in a different place.
By now, (lunchtime) the cold was getting to us so we ambled back to the hotel for a restful afternoon to catch up with some Christmas movies and TV. We have another feast in the restaurant tonight and then tomorrow, we leave on the next leg of our trip to Amiens in northern France.