The day we got choco’late’

Oops, missed the bus at Bruges…

Day-tours are quite enjoyable…structured, planned, with tips on must-sees, must-eats, must-drinks and must-buys, informative tidbits, juicy legends…a taste of nature, history, culture, architecture, culinary traditions and crafts, all rolled into one. Pied Piper takes you merrily along the destined path and you play ‘follow the leader’ meekly, most of the time that is.

Except when you naughtily sneak into a pretty by-lane or cheekily step into an enticing archway. Except when you lag behind enraptured by the cute window-sill laden with a fairytale group of ceramic gnomes or when you pace ahead, drawn by the half-open door of the next room in the mysterious castle corridor. Sometimes, you linger on for half a dozen more photos, and you miss the bits of the commentary, and then you hurry to catch up with the group. 

Cute, huh? Mostly, yeah. Until you miss an important point. Like that time in Bruges, when we missed the bus back to Brussels, because we lingered too long, we didn’t pay attention to the guide’s instructions to find our way back to the bus, and neither did we bother to take one of the route maps he was handing out. “Yeah, yeah, we got all that. As if we’ll get lost”…I had muttered impatiently under my breath, while the rest of the group hung on to every word. He had spelt it out loud and clear: “The bus will not wait for anyone.” Over-confidence kills, we realised woefully later.

Time flew past…as we drank in mouthfuls of the tranquil beauty…picturesque canals shimmered as they flowed under arched stone footbridges, white swans skimmed gracefully over the waterways, flower-draped, quaint cobblestone streets curved past turreted manor houses with gabled roofs and and shops overflowed with antique treasures, vines draped down to touch the water of the Reine canal. Stunning Flemish brickwork facades blazed in the sunlight and I traced fine architectural details…wooden medieval doors, stone gargoyles, circular and teardrop-shaped windows with diamond-cut traditional crown glass, intricate lace curtains, reliefs on walls showing apprentices at work. All houses facing the water, not because of the views, but because that’s where prime business used to be…thanks to transportation on these waterways, brewing and textiles had reached their zenith in 14th-century Bruges.

Pretty houses along the canal..couldn’t resist peeping into the lace windows

At the Markt in the town centre, we immersed ourselves into the flawless medieval and Neo-Gothic architecture, the string of restaurants with outdoor tables overflowing with food and Belgian beers, the hypnotic clip-clops of horses’ hooves and the regular quarterly chimes of the manually operated 47-bell carillon of the square’s belfry. Little window-fronts of lace shops showcased home decor items made of the famed Bruges bobbin lace…testimony to the history of a painstaking, local skill dating back to the early Renaissance era.

Quaint architecture at Markt, the heart of Bruges

It was the chocolate capital of Belgium, and we were literally smelling chocolate at Wollestraat, the chocolate hotspot of the town. Shops were packed shoulder to shoulder on both sides, and each enticing display of pralines, figurines, sweets and slabs were tempting us non-stop. We stepped into one chocolaterie after another, mesmerized by the delicious variety lining the glass shelves…classic milk to almond praline to pure liqueur filled gourmet delights…countless types from the simple to the intricate… each with their own sophisticated flavours and heavenly textures.

How could I not enter each of the tantalising chocolate shops lining this adorable street?

Traditional flavours to wildly experimental ones including black olive, tomato, wasabi, fried onion, bacon, curry, basil…the chocolate mecca was enough to drive anyone crazy with its piles of pralines and trays of truffles. Prices for chocolates were generally between 50 cents and 1 euro each and chocolate was sold by weight, starting with 100-grams. It is said that people of Bruges buy fresh chocolate like others pastry or bread. But we would stock up enough to last a few months!  Vikas kept reminding me of the time, but each time there was ‘just one more’ chocolate shop I had to go into. Finally, I was done chocolate-ing and we hurried on towards the bus park. 

Not only had we lost track of time, but our sense of direction as well! The guide had cautioned that the bus wouldn’t wait for late-comers and we were panicking because we would get left behind. A couple of wrong turns turned disastrous and we were stranded without transportation back to Brussels. Embarrassment, irritation and frustration writ large on our faces, we recalled the emergency return route the guide had mentioned in case anyone missed the bus. Vikas glared at me. I dared not utter a word.

It was a strenuous 15-minute march to the train station. The train ride cost us 6 euro per person…but we would have happily spent three times that to get a seat. It took us an hour to Brussels, standing in a compartment crammed with people like sardines in a can, we didn’t speak, we were tired, our legs hurt and the chocolate bags were heavy as lead. I swore never to be late again! We had been disciplined…the hard way.

31 thoughts on “The day we got choco’late’

  1. What an adventure! At least there was a route back haha! I can’t imagine how the streets must have smelled – must have been a strong chocolate scent – heavenly 🙂

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  2. Wow! So lucky for you guys that there was an alternative route back 🙂 At least it was a fun little adventure and you got to smell chocolate-scented air!

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  3. You were lucky there was a different option for getting home! But at least it makes for a great chocolate related travel story – and your descriptions of Bruges make me feel like I am there!

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  4. I was in Brugge around 8 years ago and I don’t like chocolate at all, but I enjoyed the city and its beer. When I were, there was a beer festival where you could taste hundreds of different brands. Your descriptions are quite accurate and you made me remember a lots of things from my visit. Glad you enjoyed it 😉

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  5. Bruges is one of my fave towns in Belgium, but then again, I love them all. We sat up in the Duvelarium drinking a beer, overlooking the square and the photo you took was right near us. Belgium has the most amazing chocolate doesn’t it. Have you been to other cities in Belgium ?

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    1. I first saw a picture of Bruges in a copy of Lonely Planet, but the town was much more delightful than its picture. I agree with you…its Belgium’s star jewel. We also went to Antwerp, but sadly missed out on Ghent.


  6. I love Bruges! Can’t wait to go back, We almost didn’t make our bus back to P&O ferry to UK because we were having so much fun touring around! You sound like me, I never have been a guide traveler because I am such a wanderer and like to get lost and just be out and about away from the groups to explore and be silly and linger to see things. I once went snorkeling and the guide from the dive boat probably could have killed me always saying lady, lady hold onto life tube, because of currents, there was a fearful girl with us and I refused swimming away to look at things and be adventurous! I couldn’t bear being bogged down by the boringness of being stuck with others that were not as adventurous.

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