Belgium chocolate is regarded by most to be the finest chocolate in the world. And the ancient city of Bruges is filled with chocolate shops. Running at around $26 a pound it is even better than See’s Chocolates. I’m delighted to have my daughter Rebecca on board GRAND PRINCESS for this Scandinavian voyage and the next voyage to the Med. Even as an adult, Rebecca can still be awed by a fountain of the world’s best chocolate.
[Here I have to interject my best chocolate fountain story. The home office entertainment folks of one cruise line, that will remain nameless, but not Princess, decided it would be a fantastic idea to feature piles of strawberries and fruit at the deck party and the highlight would be free standing chocolate fountains standing around the deck. Wow! Like many ideas created by folks who’ve never spent much time actually ON the ships, guess what happened at the deck party when there was the least amount of wind? Chocolate blowing all over the party and the guests! Not exactly in the program but such is life on a cruise ship! As they say, “Ship happens!”
.My first contract with Princess was on ROYAL PRINCESS doing Amazon cruises between Manaus and Ft. Lauderdale. When we were in Manaus I met a wonderful friend Eric Branden, a Belgian who resettled in Brazil forty years ago. Eric spent a wonderful day with several of us from the ship, showing us his city of Manaus and taking us to his beautiful home. Since then Eric has become a loyal follower of this blog and when he realized that he would be back home in Belgium when we called, was gracious enough to meet us at the ship and show us his city of Bruges.
We had a wonderful day in spite of cold weather and rain with Eric taking us around the marvelous old city of Bruges. Often, like Amsterdam, called “The Venice of the North”, because of its control of much of the wool trade and a trading alliance with Venice, Bruges became at its zenith the chief commercial city of the world. Like many of these medieval cities, Bruges had it’s religious relic to boost pilgrim tourism, in this case a crystal vial containing the reputed blood of Christ, which still can be seen in the tiny Chapel of the Holy Blood.
The old buildings of the Burg Square and surrounds have been constructed, and reconstructed through the centuries and make Bruges an amazing city in which to wander around. Like in Venice and Amsterdam, a Canal cruise is a must even when it is raining.
The Church of Our Lady was built from the 13th to 15th centuries. The tower is 122 meters or 400 feet high and is the largest structure in the city. At its peak, Bruges was the center of finance, money and banking, and probably had the first stock market in the world. A wealthy patron of the church purchased Michelangelo’s wonderful Madonna and Child with Jesus shown as a toddler, sculpted by Michelangelo around 1501 and brought to Bruges around 1504.