Windmills and Waffles

I’ve decided to take a later train to Brussels so I can fit in one last thing in Bruges that I didn’t get around to doing yesterday.  I arrive at a bike shop just off the Markt bright and early as soon as they open so I can grab me some wheels and head out to the edge of town.

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All day yesterday I watched people buzzing about on bikes an I thought it’d be a nice way to end my time in Bruges, by cycling out along the city canal to where the windmills are.  I know most people would associate windmills with Holland, but they were found here too and I want to see a real life windmill (no, the one at the old Dutch Windmill garden centre in Perth does not count, and it doesn’t exist anymore anyway).  A 1 hour bike rental cost me 4 euros from the rental shop at Hotel Koffeboontje in Hallestraat – they seemed to have one of the earliest opening times, which suits me fine.  The streets are so quiet, just the sound of my tyres over the cobblestones and the faint rattling of my bicycle bell as I trail through the streets, hopefully in the right direction.

I reach the edge of the old town in no time at all and turning left along the canal spot my first windmill.  There used to be about 25 windmills in Bruges, but now only a few remain.  Most seem to have been built around the 1700’s, and you can go inside some of them at times.  They aren’t open this morning.

The second windmill was not far away, and surprise, surprise – also appeared to be the scene of an art installation for the Triennale, its surrounding face covered in lacework.

Last thing on my to do list ticked off, I cycle back through town, stopping to snap away every now again, and return my bike before stopping for a coffee and croissant.

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Then it’s time to board the train for my short ride to Brussels, where I’ll be spending the next two nights.

I put Brussels on the list when I saw pictures of the magnificent architecture in the town square – the Grand Place.  And it did not disappoint.  You can’t tell someone how gorgeous it is when you finally see it in the flesh.  The gothic architecture is just stunning.

For lunch I head to one of the little cafes in the square so I can admire the setting.  Whilst waiting for my chicken volauvent, my glass of wine arrives, along with a little dish of biscuit snacks, which seem to be customary when dining in Belgium.

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I really can’t get over just how gorgeous the Grand Place is!  And in the middle, they are preparing for Flowertime 2015, which opens in a few days time – unfortunately after I’ve left.  Flowertime showers the Grand Place with a beautiful floral carpet and also adorns the inside of the Ville de Bruxelles (or Town Hall) with floral arrangements and décor.  It’s only in its first few days of creation, but already I could imagine just how beautiful a scene this will create in the week ahead.

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Something that Belgium is definitely famous for is waffles.  And I want to know how to make a good waffle, so I’m joining a waffle workshop to find out how.  Walking around the streets there are waffle shops all over the place.

As we leave the Grand Place, we head down a street you could probably call Waffle Street for all the waffle shops here.  Above each is a little 1€ sign.  And there is a story behind it – a young man wanted to buy a present for his girlfriend so he set up a waffle shop here, selling waffles for €1 to make enough money.  Everyone else thought, well we can do this too!  Which started up a competition – the trick is that unless you buy a plain waffle with nothing on it – you won’t pay €1.  Each topping costs money so they usually end up being about €5/6.  And you’ll see tourists everywhere walking around with their waffles saturated with toppings.

But there are all different types of waffles.  In fact, like so many of our favourite foods from far and away, the Belgian waffle was created in New York for the 1964 World’s Fair.  Sold as “bel-gem” waffles, they were actually based on the Brussels waffle with a little tweaking.

So what’s a Brussels waffle, you ask?  They are made with a thin, yeast batter making them nice and light.  They are rectangular in appearance with deeper holes.  Leige waffles are made with a more bread like dough, thick and sticky.  This dough contains chunks of sugar, which caramelise and form a crisp golden coating.  When it comes out of the waffle maker, this waffle is uneven with a sweeter, more chewier taste.

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We arrive at our workshop location and are given our recipe.  After a brief demonstration, we are left to our own devices.  Eek!  And the end result?  Look at these babies!

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We are heartily encouraged to cook and eat as many of these dough devils as possible, but it’s a tough job.  Well for some – the American’s in our class seem to have no trouble shoving them down the hatch.  My waffles, though they look huge, are actually just cut up portions of one.  This hands on afternoon has been great fun and best of all – I now have the recipe to make them at home!

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