Read about day one of my Amsterdam & Bruges trip HERE!
The next day we awoke to grab a quick breakfast at the hotel before traveling into the Dutch countryside to visit the village of Zaanse Schans. I was so completely excited, even when it started to rain down on us. We made our way over a little path and through a wooden gate into the village. Working windmills turned in the distance, and the rain made the grass look ten times greener. The Netherlands are completely flat, so you could see far into the surrounding fields.
Little creaks wound through the footpaths, and a mother duck led her group of ducklings into an area protected by the long reeds—probably because she heard the group’s footsteps over the wooden bridge above them.
We went into a private cheese-making demonstration where we watched a worker wearing a traditional bonnet, dress, skirt, and clogs explain to us how they produce Gouda (their main product) and many other cheeses. After the demonstration we were able to head inside the small shop to attend a cheese tasting. There were dozens of different types of cheeses, and everyone was excited when we were told that they can bring waxed-covered cheese into the United States, but everything else was not allowed through the border to the United States.
After the cheese-making demonstration, we were invited to watch a clog-making demonstration in a building dedicated to the craft. There were ten or so display cases lining the front halls when we walked in, and they were filled to the brim with dozens of incredible clogs—from would-carved, to hand painted. There was even one pair called the “Diamond Clogs,” and yes, you guessed it—they were covered in hundreds of diamonds!
We watched as a Dutchman explained to us both the process of old and how clogs are made today using advanced wood-cutting machinery. We watched as he transformed a piece of wet wood into a lovely clog; which would be dried, painted, and put out for sale. After the demonstration was over, we were able to try on some clogs and poke around the gift shop for awhile. I wish I had brought more Euros, because there were so many beautiful pairs of clogs in there available to buy!
After we had our fill of clogs and cheese, we went to a little traditional café for a few lattes and some Dutch apple pie! Yum! I wish I could have spent more time in that lovely little village, but we had to again board the bus, swing by the hotel to pick up the others who didn’t go to Zaanse Schans, and hit the road on our way to Belgium!
During the bus ride, we entertained ourselves with movies and sleep, all the while brimming with excitement at the thought of visiting the gorgeous city of Bruges—which is the most well-preserved medieval city in Europe!
We had to walk into the city from outside, because there is a rule there that limits the amount of automobiles within the city limits. This is to preserve the city for as long as possible. It’s okay though, because the locals found another way of transportation—the horse and carriage. They were everywhere, trotting down the cobblestone streets at a lovely speed. As a tourist, you have to be incredibly careful of where you walk, because 1. You could step in some evidence of past horses, or 2. You run the risk of being trampled. That unpleasantness aside, the horses and carriages added a whimsy to the city that made me feel like I had been transported back in time.
The city was also built around canals, and the buildings ran right into them, which created such an incredible view. There were lovely painted buildings and shops, and the signs were all in Flemish! Because fine linens are a staple of Belgium, there was linen shops everywhere, all filled with the most intricate of woven threads.
After completing a walking tour of the city, we set out to try all of the most amazing foods available in Belgium—the Belgian waffle, Belgian chocolates, and cherry beer. Our first stop was to a chocolate store. The Belgian chocolates I bought came in a box of 23, and all were incredible. Hands down the best chocolate I have ever had the pleasure of indulging in (and I eat a lot of chocolate)! Some were filled with marzipan, which is an almond paste, cocoa, fudge, caramel, crème, and two tasted like fresh coffee! All were hand-decorated, salted, and drizzled. They were probably my favorite buy of the trip!
Our second stop was to a small stand that sold Belgian waffles. The two women working the stand were masters of their craft—when you ordered, they would take a little ball of raw dough and put it fresh into the waffle press. I ordered mine with powdered sugar and—you guessed it!—melted, warm chocolate. Others got fresh fruit, caramel, or whipped cream. It was warm, gooey, and practically melted in your mouth! They also came with a little Belgian flag toothpick stuck on the top, which was the perfect touch.
In order to wash down all of this chocolate, we found a little restaurant and ordered ourselves some cherry beer, which is what Belgium is famous for, in terms of alcohol. It was refreshingly sweet, but also had a nice tang to it, which made it a perfect balance of sweet and savory. Yum!
We had the option to climb the belfry in the square after lunch, which is one of the highest in Europe, but ultimately passed in favor of visiting one of the lovely canals again. The only regret I have on this trip is that I didn’t get to spend more time in Bruges, which is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen—and I currently call the lovely city of London home!