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updated: Jan 23, 2010, 9:30 AM
By John McCafferty (aka McSeas)
Before this journey, we hadn't spent much time thinking about Bruges (spelled and pronounced variously, but most often called "Broozh). Our curiosity however, had been piqued by the popular film, "In Bruges", in which a lowbrow hit man insists on cursing "(CENSORED) Bruges". He kept repeating that, saying, "All the great cities in the world where you can whack somebody and I get sent to (CENSORED) Bruges…" Other characters in the film seemed to think, as we did, that Bruges is a great (CENSORED) city to visit!
Scenic canals are one way to admire the architecture of Bruges.
One perfect spring afternoon, we debarked from our train and rode a bus into this city of remarkably well-maintained architecture, some of which goes back to Roman times. And there's so much of it! There are square miles of scenic buildings, not just a few square blocks of "Old Town", the likes of which are all over Europe.
We had flunked academic preparation for this portion of the trip, and had to go to Google University to find that locals have preserved more than 700 years of building styles. Architects progressed through Roman, Romanesque, Neo-Gothic, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque times before going "modern".
We hadn't seen so much Ooh and Ahh-era building since Prague and Tallinn, Estonia.
I once asked a friend in Prague what they called the pointy facades at the tops of buildings, and she said "atticuses". OK, there are atticuses all over the place in Bruges, and they add to the beauty of the variety of skylines. (Good King) Wenceslas (the same) Square in Prague is magnificent, but maybe not as interesting and attractive to look at.
All those soaring angles made me think of the huge crystals you see in America's desert museums. THIS, we agreed, was sightseeing!
And now a word about food: the word is "fries". Local legend has it that pommes frites are so called because American soldiers in World War I heard locals speaking French while they cooked. (Belgians in various areas also speak Dutch -- aka "Flemish" -- and German. And many speak English.) So let's figure that French fries were indeed born right here.
There is a very amusing and enjoyable French Fry Museum (seriously!) near the huge Market Square. We toured it and learned much about potatoes in general, and French fries in particular. This sounds ridiculous, but it's not! Especially if you're a foodie, and you're hungry, and it's around lunchtime. The museum basement includes some fast-working fry cooks, whomping up big platters of fries, with your choice of catsup or mayonnaise.
Belgian cooks deep-fry the spuds at medium heat for a few minutes, crisping up the surfaces, and then they let them "rest" for a while -- at least 10 minutes. Then they deep-fry them at a high temp for a few minutes, and voila! So maybe MY greasy homemade fries have been a little too oily because I didn't double-cook them, and because I used canola oil (from fields of rape growing all over Europe, yellow-flowered, for oil and cattle feed).
Museum data said the best medium for frying them is beef fat, and sometimes a little horse fat (!!!). I'll hold the horses and compromise using pig lard, I guess. A cook at the museum cautioned that that might lend a slight porky flavor to the fries. We'll see.
In and Out Burger's fries are pretty good, but just not the same. So Bruges is a beer- and fries-driven society. Unfortunately, this has resulted in more giant beer bellies than anywhere outside of the American South.
Popular tourist postcards show local pride in Bruges's famous foods, with photos of the Big Four: French fries, chocolate candy, beer and "Belgian waffles".
Maybe a bicycle photo should be added. THOUSANDS are ridden around Bruges. Outside of town you see huge parking lots for bikes. Many hundreds, I presume for commuters. (Or maybe that was outside another city, on a train outing to Oostend, on the coast.)
A street in downtown Bruges shows the variety of building styles.
To be continued.
For more rambling stories, see www.mcseas.com
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