We spent the next two days visiting Brugges. Thursday was rainy and cold, so we spent most of the day inside. In the morning, we took a tour of the Halve Maan brewery, during which we learned the health benefits of beer. In the afternoon, we visited the Choco-Story, a chocolate museum, at which we learned the health benefits of chocolate. Afterward, we walked around in the rain until we found a cafe where we could sit inside and have waffles.
On Friday, after some fries from one of the two fried-food kiosks in the Markt, we climbed the belfry to see the fantastic view of Bruges and get a close-up of the carillon as it rang the quarter hour. After a lunch of mussels steamed in beer, we visited the Dumon Chocolate shop. We left with a large box of pralines and a bag of incredibly good caramel truffles. So fortified, we walked over to the Brug square and into the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which was built to showcase a vial of Jesus' blood brought back from the Crusades. We had another round of waffles and then followed Rick Steves' walking tour.
On Saturday, we drove further west, just short of the French border, to the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Westvleteren, to sample the best beer in the world. Much of the attraction is due to the scarcity: the beer can only be purchased at the abbey in strictly limited quantities. What makes it even more appealing is that the monks aren't brewing incredibly small quantities out of artisanal commitment or savvy brand management strategy; they just don't care about making more money than they need to run the abbey. If it's inconvenient for you, that's your problem: the customer is very much not always right. It's not about you, it's about God. This ironically turns out to be brilliant marketing, getting tourists like us to schlep their kids around narrow country roads the west end of nowhere.
The abbey itself is not open to the public, but there is a store and cafe across the street, where we ate lunch and purchased our allotted one six-pack per adult. Not surprisingly, both the Westvleteren 8, a dubbel, and and the Wesvleteren 12, a quadrupel, were excellent.
After lunch, we drove to nearby Ypres, the great World War I battlefield. The town was destroyed in the war but was completely rebuilt. The whole area is in a midst of a four-year centenary. We visited the In Flanders Fields war museum which is housed in the reconstructed Cloth Hall. Just outside, a fair was being held. After some rides, we went for one final waffle, but the kids were tired of them after three days and opted for ice cream instead. This was a good indication it was time to head back home to Amsterdam.