About 14 months ago, we found ourselves sitting canal-side and cozy in Bruges. Perhaps the reason for our visit was our deep love of Belgian beers, or perhaps it was the 2008 film, “In Bruges”…
Whatever the reason, it became the perfect opportunity to explore a charming European town with my mother and her husband, on her first drive to continental Europe from their coastal home in England (by way of chunnel). Kicking off 5 weeks abroad for Rich and me, Bruges was something of a fairytale dream.
But it didn’t start that way… figuring that we could get plenty of sleep on our flight over, we booked consecutive rail trips snaking from Amsterdam to Bruges. For posterity, it’s worth noting the mistakes we made here:
- First Mistake: Ever assuming we might get quality sleep on an overseas flight, even with sleeping masks and a shot of alcohol each (which was still worth it).
- Second mistake: Assuming that the trains in Belgium would be as well-labeled as in the Netherlands, and that platforms wouldn’t change.
- Third mistake: Not researching how many waking hours a human body can withstand before beginning to hallucinate… at one point, Rich thought he saw a rhinoceros standing in a grassy Belgian field. Of course, this was just a horse in a gray coat.
- Fourth mistake: Neglecting dramamine before a taxi ride in Bruges. If you have been to a Disneyland with a “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride,” then you know exactly what this was like… it should be terrifying, but it’s just amusing as people and horse-drawn carriages alike fall away before you like magic.
- Fifth mistake: Failing to realize that many hotels in Bruges only have baths, which somehow seemed like more work after so many hours traveling and just wanting to be clean.
To be fair, we had made some good choices overall – like thoroughly researching our train route options in advance, and printing out all of our tickets to keep in a folder with us – but this was probably one of the last long, multi-legged trips of our lives.
After our secure arrival in Bruges and a brief nap, we set out to explore the city before nightfall. If you are also a fan of city cycling and the civilized hush it can produce in a city without the roaring and honking of cars, Bruges may be a dream for you as well. Weathered buildings lit up at night, the murmur of languages from across the globe, and the ubiquitous snow-white swans made for a lovely introduction.
The next morning, we woke bright and early and enjoyed a true feast of a breakfast. As guests, we had a squawking duck and her adorable hungry ducklings swimming just outside our canal-view window. This second welcome to Bruges was so charming that we decided to wake up early and claim this table with the large window and family of ducks on each day of our stay.
After our family made their eagerly-awaited arrival, we set out on a few days of explorations to discover that Bruges is not just a feast for the belly, it’s also a feast for the eyes. Even after a year since our visit, I still savor these memories…
- The traditional Flemish dish of Stovlees/Stoofvlees (Carbonade Flamande) is – and may always be – among my top 5 favorite meals.
- Authentic, fresh Belgian chocolate is every bit as good as you’ve been lead to believe.
- When you hear horse hooves clopping in the narrow streets, it can be surprisingly difficult to discern which direction carriages are coming from.
- Climb the Belfort. It’s a long way up, but the view of Bruges and the closer look at the musical cylinder which powers the bells is entirely worth it.
- Whatever you believe, standing next to a box purported to contain a vial of Christ’s blood will affect you.
- Even if it’s been a beautiful day, taking a canal boat tour is the best way to ensure that you will receive some ill-timed torrential rain for the day.
- Belgian beer is delicious, and a brewery tour at De Halve Maan will give you a whole new appreciation for the heritage of the oldest brewing traditions. Plus, unfiltered (unpasteurized) beer on tap is so very much better than the bottled version.
The fabulous Rick Steves’ Amsterdam, Bruges & Brussels will set you on the right path, and provide helpful historical context. Check out the gallery for some our favorites:
And a final piece of advice…
Keep your eyes open
and your steps slow,
so life can take you by surprise