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Ghent, Belgium

September 10, 2016

In Belgium, I had the luxury of staying with an amazing host family. Bieke (pronounced Be-Ka), Frank and their very sweet 3 year old Aurora. As soon as I walked in the door she ran up to me and gave me a hug.img_9577I immediately knew I was in the right place. They were also hosting img_9710another workawayer, Lynn, from Germany, at the same time. I say the luxury because Frank and Bieke’s home was amazing. I particiapted in a workaway during this stay. Which means you work and in return the host allow you to stay in their home and provide your food. Well, I couldn’t have asked for a better workaway experience. Frank & Bieke have a beautiful home where they have started a Wellness Retreat. The Wellness Retreat consisted of a pool, jacuzzi, wet sauna, dry sauna, and infra red. Other than some very minimal house cleaning, because of my background in healthcare, anatomy & physiology, massage, yoga and mediation, I had the luxury of giving meditation and massage as my “work”!

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When I wasn’t “working”, I was able to utilize the pool, sauna, jacuzzi and spa for my own use. Lynn spent her time working in the garden on most days and during our free time we laid out by the pool reading or blogging, or in the pool swimming. I have to say I have not watched 1 minute of television since I started my travels. I have taken in so much useful information, history and knowledge in the last 3 weeks than I ever would from months of television. 

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Frank & Bieke are both really great cooks. I indulged on some very Dutch and delicious meals during my stay.

 

On our off day we took the train to Ghent or Gent (in Dutch) and went on a walking tour. In medieval times Ghent was one of the largest cities in Europe, second only to Paris. Today it is a city of culture, a place with an abundance of museums, galleries and assorted architectural gems. The tour consisted of:

img_9701Graslei and Korenlei (the medieval harbor of img_9703Ghent), this medieval port with its unique row of historical buildings, reflected in the long river, is the meeting place, for the young and old,  everyone meets in one of the many café patios or by the water. This is the thriving heart of the inner city. Every house on the Graslei has its own history. Together they form the story of the incredible blossoming of Ghent’s economy during the Middle Ages. On the other side of the water is the Korenlei. All that remains of some of the original buildings is the outer walls.

 The three towers of Ghent: St. Nicholas Church, The Belfry, and St. Bavo’s Cathedral, define the famous medieval skyline of the city center. St. Nicholas Church is one of the oldest and most prominent landmarks in Ghent, Belgium. Begun in the early 13th century as a replacement for an earlier Romanesque church.img_9708 The Belfry is the tallest Belfry in Ghent. It’s construction began in 1313. After continuing intermittently through wars, plagues and political turmoil, the work reached completion in 1380. It was near the end of this period that the gilded dragon, brought from Bruges,assumed its place atop the tower. The uppermost parts of the building have been rebuilt several times, in part to accommodate the growing number of bells. St. Bavo’s Cathedral is built on the site of the former Chapel of St. John the Baptist, a primarily wooden construction that was consecrated in 942 by Transmarus, Bishop of Tournai and Noyon. Traces of this original structure are evident in the cathedral’s crypt. The chapel was subsequently expanded in the Romanesque style in 1038. Some traces of this phase of expansion are still evident in the present day crypt.

Graffiti Street, this street/alleyway is definitely not something you expect to find in Ghent, especially when the rest of the city is so traditional, with castles, cathedrals, churches and all the usual stuff in between. Although graffiti is banned in Gent and will land you some serious jail time and fines, on this street street artist are free to decorate as they please without any hassle or worries. Authorities allow artist to free lance here as an aid to keep them from destroying the traditional medieval history of the streets of Gent and overtime it has become a very popular tourist attraction.

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 Vrijdagsmarkt square, In previous centuries, this square was where the greater part of public political and social life took place. It was here that rulers were solemnly received, feasts celebrated and feuds settled. Apart from the 15th-century Toreken, all the buildings on the Vrijdagmarkt date from the 18th century and the monumental socialist house of the people and even dates from the beginning of the 20th century. The statue that lies in the middle of the square is of Jacob van Artevelde, a man who managed to undo the boycott of English wool imports during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France in the 14th century. He is also known as ” The Wise Man” and “The Brewer of Ghent”. The textiles industry in Ghent was revived and Artevelde was hailed a hero because he was able to save Gent of the boycott and the loss of much income and money. In 1345 he was murdered during a riot. Since 1863 his statue at Vrijdagmarkt has been pointing to England.

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 Dulle Griet, is a medieval supergun from Ghent, Belgium. The wrought-iron bombard was constructed in the first half of the 15th century from 32 longitudinal bars enclosed by 61 rings. In 1452, the bombard was employed by the city of Ghent in the siege of Oudenaarde, but fell into the hands of the defenders on the retreat and was only returned to Ghent in 1578. The supergun now covered on both ends, used to be open, however, too many college students were sleeping in the supergun as part of dares or hazing, which caused them to endure hypothermia in the winter time. 

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 The Castle Gravensteen, is a castle in Ghent originating from the Middle Ages. The name means “castle of the counts” in Dutch. The present castle was built in 1180 by count Philip of Alsace and was modeled after the crusaders castles that Philip of Alsace encountered while he participated in the second crusade. Before its construction, there stood a wooden castle on the same location, presumably built in the ninth century. The castle served as the seat of the Counts of Flanders until they abandoned it in the 14th century. The castle was then used as a courthouse, a prison and eventually decayed. Houses were built against the walls and even on the courtyard and the stones of the walls were used to erect other buildings. At one time it even served as a factory. At the end of the 19th century, the castle was scheduled to be demolished. However, in 1885 the city of Ghent bought the castle and started a renovation project. The newly built houses were removed and the walls and keep were restored to their original condition. The castle has been repaired enough to allow people to travel through it and climb on top. It is still partly surrounded by the moat. Inside is a museum with various torture devices and a guillotine, that were historically used in Ghent.

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After the tour we walked around to find the best delicacies to eat. Of course, that consisted of Waffles and Chocolate. If you really know me, you know that I love chocolate and oh my god!!! Belgium has thee absolute best chocolate I’ve ever had in my entire life and trust me I’ve had a lot of chocolate.

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Thus far, my trip has been absolutely perfect Chasing The Sun!!!

Featured Food Lifestyle Travel Uncategorized

Vlaamse Frites

September 7, 2016

The French fries in Amsterdam and the most common condiment served with them is mayonnaise. Not only is that true, but French fries are an obsession in the Netherlands and it’s difficult to find a restaurant in Amsterdam that doesn’t serve them. When deciding what you want to eat in Amsterdam is hard to avoid these things, and you really wouldn’t want to anyway.

As you walk through the city you’ll notice many little take-away shops whose primary decorations are oversized cartoon depictions of a bag of fries. Some of them also serve falafels and other Middle Eastern food, but many of them do their primary business selling these salty high-carb treats. You’ll never have to walk more than a couple of blocks to get your fix, even late at night.

But before we go on, let’s get oriented. A couple hundred years ago, in what is now Belgium, some genius decided to slice up some potatoes and then deep fry the slivers. The Brits call them “chips,” the French call them “pommes frites,” and for some reason the Americans call them “French fries.” But in the Netherlands and Belgium they call them “Vlaamse frites” and they eat them like there is no tomorrow, or at least no such thing as high cholesterol. Vlaamse frites literally means “Flemish fries,” correctly attributing them to the northern Belgium region of Flanders.

They are served in a paper cone in Amsterdam, and that’s handy because they are always about a million degrees inside when they are handed to you. Biting right into one is a great way to sear your taste buds shut for the next few days. You’ll also get a small plastic fork, which becomes important nearer the bottom of the cone.

Most places serve 3 or 4 different sizes of Vlaamse Frites. The smallest size is still larger than a “small” at a McDonalds, and they are usually around €2.00. The largest is literally a meal-size cone and can be all yours for around €3.50, but you are not done yet. Just as crooked car salesmen try to sell you undercoating and other mysterious add-ons, the Vlaamse Frites also have options.

The majority of places will have about 5 different sauces available, and some will have as many as 10. Yes, the delicious and very rich-mayonnaise is definitely the most popular and the one you should try for sure, but they also offer things like curry sauce, garlic sauce, tartar sauce, chili sauce, ranch dressing, feta cheese, gravy, and yes, even ketchup for those whose tastes haven’t progressed since they turned 8. The sauces are usually 25 to 50 cents each (some 75 cents though) and most people just choose one, although drunken thrill-seekers sometimes do pile them on.

Most locals claim that they have the best Vlaamse Frites in Amsterdam, but to be honest they are all pretty close. Avoid the Vlaamse frites served at the FEBO automats, and obviously don’t try to get them at McDonalds or Burger King. I’ve found the Maoz chain to be reliable, and their falafels with the “free salad bar” are pretty good too.

As with nearly any other restaurant choice, it’s good to pick a place that’s busy over one that is dead. High turnover equals freshness, but that can be a bit deceiving in the world of Vlaamse frites. All the shops in Amsterdam use the same two-step cooking method. The thick potato wedges are initially deep fried at a low temperature for a while to cook the inside to a pleasant doneness. Then the guy will unceremoniously toss these half-cooked frites onto a steel grill under a heating lamp until somebody orders them. You’d be forgiven for thinking you are getting old Vlaamse frites as you watch the guy toss your desired amount into the oil again before giving them to you, but this Phase Two is a vital part of the process. The second dip is in very hot oil, and in only a minute or so the outsides become crisp and delicious while the inside stays tender and somehow gets as hot as the core of the sun in the process.

Bon appétit, but give ‘em a couple minutes to cool first. And you’ll figure out why that little plastic fork is handy when you get past the halfway point.