For my husband’s 40th Birthday, I bought him (us) a weekend trip to Bruges in Belgium. It was part of my Around the World: A Year of Dates gift that I created. The idea was, that each month we would ‘visit’ somewhere that he really wanted to go to in the world…without actually going there! With the exception of Bruges, which I actually booked as a surprise, and our trip back to Florida.
We went to Bruges at the beginning of February and had a wonderful time – it was such a beautiful city and we were really sad to leave…but I’m going to re-live our time spent in Belgium with you in this trip report…I took a lot of photographs and won’t be putting them all here, but if you would like to see the whole set, you can do so on my Flickr.
I’d arranged for my husband to have the Friday off work, and booked an early Eurostar train to take us to Bruges. It meant a very early start for us on Friday morning with us having to be at our local train station at about 5am to catch the train into London! As it turned out, our cab to take us to the station was early, enabling us to get an earlier train and not have to rush about to get to the Eurostar terminal.
We grabbed an (expensive!) coffee and some breakfast before going through into passport control and security.
All securely through, it was a short wait before we could board the Eurostar. We were one of the first into our carriage and was able to put our small suitcase on the rack and find our seats, which turned out to be the same ones as when we went to Paris a few years ago! Weird!
Then it was time to sit back and relax for our journey into Europe. The train stopped a few times along the way, first in Kent, and then at Calais and Lille in France before its final stop at Brussels, Belgium. The journey time of just over two hours went by in no time at all, with iPads and kindles to keep us occupied!
At Brussels, we had to change to a local train for the hours ride to Bruges. A really comfortable train it was, and it didn’t seem to take an hour at all!
It had been raining in the UK when we left at silly o’clock in the morning, and it was still raining when we finally pulled into Bruges. We both hoped this wouldn’t set the tone of the weather for the weekend as my parents (who had visited Bruges before and recommended the guest house where we stayed) said a lot of walking is involved. We didn’t fancy having to trudge about in the cold and rain all weekend.
Unfortunately, the weather was horrid on our first day. We walked the 10 minute or so walk to our guest house – Den Witten Leeuw (in the rain, on cobbled streets with our pull along suitcase – was not fun!) and had to consult the map to see if we were at least headed in the right direction. We stopped for a moment whilst Steve checked out the directions and I turned to look around. I noticed that the building on the corner had a white lion as a door knocker…
…and remembering that my mum had told me that Den Witten Leeuw translated into White Lion, I realised we must be in the right place! Huzzah!
We were greeted warmly by the owner’s daughter and invited into the lounge area. Our host – Anne – then came in and talked us through some of the sights of Bruges and marked them out on a map which was such a nice touch, and the map was really helpful too. By the end of the weekend though, we felt like we knew the place as it’s so small and it was easy for us to get our bearings. She also asked what time we would like breakfast – which was another nice touch, rather than being dictated to as you often are when staying in Bed and Breakfast establishments. We decided on an early 8:30 breakfast as we didn’t want to waste a moment of our short time in Bruges!
I loved the feel of the guest house, lots of bric-a-brac around and it was so interesting to look at everything. We also found out that the Hollywood actor, Colin Farrell had stayed there whilst filming a movie in Bruges – cool!
We were shown up to our room which was at the front of the house and overlooked the square. The bed was huge and comfy and the bathroom had his ‘n’ hers sinks – awesome!
I’d emailed ahead and mentioned that we were coming to Bruges to celebrate my husband’s 40th birthday, and Anne had arranged a bottle of bubbly and some chocolates for our arrival – very sweet of her!
With everything unpacked, and armed with umbrellas, we ventured out to explore Bruges.
We crossed the road to walk down the second narrowest street in Bruges – Stoofstrat. Hubs could touch the buildings on either side by standing with his arms outstretched!
We ended up on a main road where every other shop was selling either chocolate or lace…two things which Belgium are famous for!
We walked over a bridge and could see the boats in the canal – unfortunately canal boat rides are only open from March, so we didn’t get to do that, but we did an awful lot of walking the whole weekend, packing in as much as we could in the 3 days that we were in Bruges.
We walked past The Church of Our Lady on our walk into the town, with its 122 metre tower being the tallest structure in Bruges.
We didn’t go inside, as on our first day we just wanted to get our bearings! But we did go in our last day. We also walked past St. John’s Hospital (which is just opposite the church) which was an 11th century hospital which cared for sick pilgrims and travellers. We also went inside on our last day.
We loved how much history the city was dripped in. I love the gothic architecture and did my best to take photos in the miserable weather!
Walking around Bruges is tough work on your feet as there are cobblestones on both the road and the pavement – so wear comfy shoes if you ever visit (and I urge you to – it’s beautiful!). It also feels very safe as there are hardly any cars around, and any that are, are on a one-way system. In fact, I think I saw more horse and carriages than cars! Oh, and bicycles!
We then reached a square which was surrounded by shops. My parents had warned that restaurants and cafes near the square charged a lot of money for their food/drink, so we didn’t dare go near…turns out that this wasn’t the market square though…
See…chocolate is good for you!
We carried on walking to another huge square with the Belfry of Bruges overlooking it.
It was from here that you could take a ride in the horse and carriage for 44 Euros, which we did on Day Two of our trip.
Everywhere you turned was picturesque, with old buildings and ornate (if not sometimes odd!) architecture and design.
After walking round for a couple of hours, the rain started to soak through to the skin which wasn’t the most pleasant of things, so we started to head back to Den Witten Leeuw to dry off; stopping on the way for a light lunch of a sandwich and a Belgian waffle.
We walked past a small cafe which was next to this shop which said it served the best hot chocolate…I will be the judge of that thank you very much! It was closed >_<. The sandwich shop claimed to serve the best waffles in Bruges. We begged to differ!!
We also stopped off at a chocolate shop on the way back and bought some chocolates to take home…and to scoff whilst there!
After drying off, we headed back out. We really didn’t want to waste any time! We decided to take a walk round to the Minnewater. We ended up walking the long way around (our map reading faux pas!) as it was just a short walk from our B&B we realised as we walked back in that direction!
On several buildings we saw religious icons embedded into the corners of buildings.
And lots of pretty swans on the water. When the trees and flowers are in bloom, it must be even more lovely.
We discovered that this square was the rest top for the horse and carriage rides after enquiring how much it would be, and was told you pick them up at the square in the centre of town (which we’d been to earlier in the day)
We then walked over the bridge to the Begijnhof – a monastery for the Benedictine Sisters who live there.
On the railings of the bridge, people had fastened locks. Turns out the Minnewater is also called the Love Lake…precious!
As you walk through the arch it says to turn off phones, remain silent and to not take photographs. It was very calm and tranquil and we popped into the shop that sold religious artefacts and bought a couple of gifts, including a bracelet for myself.
Back across the bridge we walked past several restaurants, including one place that served only fondue!
By now it was very late afternoon and we decided to head back to hotel again to get ready for dinner in the evening – and decide where we should go out and eat. We passed De Halve Maan Brewery, which was right next door to where we were staying, and is the oldest brewery in Bruges.
Since it was out of season, quite a lot of the eateries seemed to have shut shop, so we took to Trip Advisor to locate restaurants and read some reviews. We eventually decided on one of the restaurants that we had walked past near the Minnewater bridge called Maximiliaan Van Oostenrijk.
It was very quiet and we were sat at a round table in the window, right next to the barbecue – lovely and warm it was!
We were given a menu, which was in both Flemish and English and decided to have the regional set meal for 22.95 euros per person. We were given some pre-dinner nibbles of olives and cured meat (which seemed to be free!) with our drinks and then placed our orders with the waiter.
Hubby chose mussels with garlic for his starter, whilst I picked scampi in garlic butter for mine. He marvelled that the dish they were served on had recesses for the shells to sit on! Both were really good – the scampi was so succulent and full of flavour – it was the sort of dish that you just didn’t want to end! We were also served some bread and butter with our starters – no need for the butter though! The two dishes that we had chosen were a supplement on the menu at an extra 3.25 euros per dish.
For our main course, I went for the eloquently named ‘5 pieces of meat grilled on an open fire with chips and salad’ :D As we were sitting right next to the open fire, we were able to see this being cooked! (another supplement at 3.95 euros)
The five meats were sausage, beef steak, turkey, pork and lamb…
…served with my choice of sauce (peppercorn – yum!), chips and salad. Now, I’ve eaten a lot of steak in my life time, but this was something else – really tender, juicy and cooked to perfection! My meal was delicious and I highly recommend it.
Steve chose to have Flemish stoemp with sausage. Stoemp, it turns out, is mashed potatoes and carrots. He really enjoyed his meal – especially the mash, which when I had a taste seemed to be flavoured with bay leaves. Very nice.
Dessert was a simple affair of vanilla ice cream with whipped cream and a wafer. Enough to satisfy a sweet tooth (which I always get when we dine out!) and soooo good! The ice cream was really creamy – a fab ending to our first dining out experience in Bruges.
After our meal, we took a walk back into town to see everything by dark – we felt very safe and was told that Bruges is a safe city to walk around in the evenings.
We eventually returned to our hotel room and collapsed into bed after a long day of walking around this quaint city…and couldn’t wait to see what the next day would bring…