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Trip report for 2 days in Bruges

Day One
Our morning started with a bit of an adrenaline rush, as we woke up later than anticipated and then on our way to the train station we found out the metro line we had planned to take was down for construction, so we had to make an alternate plan. We made our train to Brussels with 4 minutes to spare, so lessons learned! In Brussels we decided to put our luggage in a locker and take the metro into town. Unfortunately I did not research this plan thoroughly enough and we had a bit of a challenge finding our way. Once there, however, it was worth it.
My only goal was to see the Grand Place, and I am so glad we took the detour to stop there. Just stunning. We also wandered away from the main square to try our first Belgian frites with mayo and waffles topped with delicious toppings. Both were better than we had anticipated, which is hard to imagine considering how much they are talked up. We had a comical time trying to make our way back to Midi. I don't know if it is the Brussels metro system, or if it was our sugar laden heads, but we found this to be the most confusing metro we have ever been on. We were 100% sure we had finally found the right platform, only to realize one stop later that we were heading in the wrong direction. So we got off, and went up the escalator planning on going down the other side to get on the platform to return to the previous station. Well, when we got to the top of the escalator, we found that the only way to the stairs down to the other platform was on the other side of the ticket reader. We were puzzled by this, because if we had taken the stairs up instead of the escalator, we would have been on the proper side of the ticket reader. We were going to exit and just pay for another ticket to go down the other side, but we realized this was not a manned station and we do not have a chip and pin card, and the ticket machines only took coins, which we did not have enough of. So after several minutes of deliberation, and observing that very few people were coming up the escalators, we did what any sane adult would do and decided to run the wrong way down the escalator to get back to the train tracks. I am not the least bit athletic, so I am sure this was a sight to behold. I almost made it without being seen when a poor commuter turned the corner to see my final leap off the escalator onto unmoving ground. Luckily he was a good sport and laughed it off. Humiliation complete, we finally found our way back to Midi and then had some measure of difficulty locating the luggage lockers again. I am convinced this was the sugar coma setting in. Before long, and with a few helpful directives from train attendants, we collected our bags and were off on a train to Bruges.

The countryside between Brussels and Bruges was just beautiful out the train window. Lots of flowering trees, farms, and people out walking their dogs on country paths. I would love to come back and take a car trip through the countryside one day. Bruges was completely packed to the gills with tourists and tour groups when we arrived. Still a little harried from our Brussels adventure, we decided to spend the 1 euro more to take a direct taxi to our hotel instead of taking the bus. I have to recommend our hotel, Hotel de Orangerie. It is a bit on the pricier side than what we normally choose, but it looked so cute that I decided to splurge. It is in a wonderful location, just a couple of minutes walk from the main square. The rooms have giant, soft beds, large bathrooms, spacious rooms and cute decorations. It is situated on a canal with a very nice view. I’m glad we made the decision to stay here.

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We took a boat through the canals right away, as the dock is just outside our hotel’s terrace. What a lovely way to get organized. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the streets and trying to hide out from the huge groups of day trippers. We found Dumon chocolate shop, which Rick Steves’ recommended, and stopped in for a box. It was very affordable for fancy chocolate, we thought. I believe it was 7 euro for a box of 15-16 chocolates of your choosing. We then went in search of dinner and ended up at a lovely restaurant called Huidevetterhuis. We shared a goat cheese salad, rabbit with apples and beer sauce, and Flemish stew. Everything was delicious, and to top it off we sat at a table with a view of a canal through charming plated glass. After dinner we walked to the main square to enjoy it finally free of the hordes. It was a very pleasant evening, with maybe 10% of the amount of people that had occupied it earlier. We were very glad we decided to stay in Bruges so we could enjoy the square like this. This is I think my favorite square in Europe yet. So we sat on a bench and people watched while eating our chocolates until after the sun went down and the lights came on, and the entire thing felt so enchanting and like my “pinch me, I can’t believe I am really here” moment.

Day Two

We went in search of a place for breakfast this morning where we could get more than just a pastry, hoping for some protein. We found a bagel shop called Sanseveria that was just incredible. Best breakfast sandwich I’ve ever had. They had freshly cooked bagels that tasted almost like baguettes. I got a sandwich with bacon (cooked crispy), toasted brie, apples and walnuts that was delicious. Definitely worth checking out if you are looking for somewhere for a nice and fairly quick breakfast in Bruges.
We decided to follow Rick Steves’ walking tour from his guidebook, and it took us a few hours since we made stops in most of his recommended places. We enjoyed seeing the Basilica of the Holy Blood and City Hall. We saw a Michelangelo sculpture in the Church of Our Lady. I was excited by this discovery, as he is one of my favorite artists. This is apparently the only sculpture to leave Italy during his lifetime. We visited the St. John’s Hospital to look at their collection of paintings by Hans Memling. He was a new artist for us, but we loved his colorful paintings on display here.

The walk ended in the Minnewater area, which we loved. The lake was so quiet compared to the rest of the city, surrounded by quaint buildings and newly budding trees, and it was filled with swans and ducks. It was a lovely place to relax for a bit. Nearby there was a collection of buildings around a church that were called Bergijnhofs, which were built to house the women of a lay order of the church. While the buildings were not terribly noteworthy, they made a ring in which there is a huge grassy area filled with trees and at this time hundreds and hundreds of daffodils. It was truly a sight to behold.

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After the walk we were tired and hot, so my husband recommended attending a free harp concert he had heard about. We found the room, and what a treat this was! The musician, Luc Vanlaere, was a harp aficionado, and he used a large collection of harps and other instruments from around the world, including ones he had made himself, to play music he composed. It was the most unusual thing I have seen. We had front row seats and enjoyed learning about the different instruments at the end of the show. He had a gong from China, bowls from Tibet, a harp from Japan, one from India, and several he had made himself. He even constructed a replica of the Lyre of Ur, the first stringed instrument that was ever found, dated over 5000 years ago. He was extremely passionate about what he does and sharing it with people. There was a box where you could give donations to his work, but no pressure. He said it is his passion to bring music to everyone, because he believes the formal music scene prices out a large part of the population who never get exposed to the fine arts. I think he does this performance several times a day, so I would highly recommend looking him up if you have a chance, the show is only about 40 minutes long. The only danger here is listening to harp music in a cool, dim place after walking all day - we were definitely fighting hard to keep our eyes open!
We didn't feel like eating a formal dinner, so we headed to the main square, had a bratwurst and some fries from a stand, and then got another Belgian waffle to take to a quiet square we had noticed earlier in the day. We sat on a bench overlooking a small canal behind the Church of Our Lady, just savoring the peacefulness and beauty that must have made Bruges so popular. Unfortunately you have to work harder to find that peace, as this is one of the most crowded and touristy places we have been to, but I think it is worth it, as we enjoyed the architecture and history of the city so much. So glad we decided to stay. On to Amsterdam tomorrow!

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876 posts

Goodness, what a morning in Brussels!

I loved Bruges when I was there about five years ago. Such a pretty place. I regret not having had enough time to hang out in the square and just people-watch.

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381 posts

Tamara it's been twenty years since I was in Bruges but I could see in my mind all the places you describe. Thanks for reminding me of some lovely memories. Enjoy Amsterdam!

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2537 posts

Thank you for the trip report, it made me remember our trip there a few years ago. I grew about the waffles, best ever, they don't even need a topping.

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1810 posts

You've succeeded in bringing back lots of fond Brugge memories. On our second trip we spent 2 nights. I'll never forget the sensation of walking from the main square in the morning towards the train station and watching the hoard of day-trippers flowing at us, filling the street - almost surreal. I understood, because we'd been day-trippers the year before, it spending the night gives a special perspective.

Love the report.

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776 posts

Thanks for the great trip repoer. Bruges is on my bucket list. I visited Ypres and the WW1 sites and really enjoyed it.

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1122 posts

Enjoyed the report. I will be visiting Bruges on my trip next year.

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608 posts

Thanks for all your kind words! It was really such a lovely city. We would really like to return and visit more of Belgium and the Netherlands one day.

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8394 posts

Your reports are so enjoyable to read Tamara, thank you. We spent 4 nights in Bruges in ‘08 and hated to leave. Absolutely loved it. We were there in July and it wasn’t crowded. Sounds like that’s changed... : (
We rented bikes for two of those days and rode everywhere, including out in the country to another charming town (Damme). Wonderful memories you’ve brought back!

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382 posts

Your trip to Bruges sounds delightful. I'm also a huge Michaelangelo fan. Have you seen the movie "Monument's Men" starring George Clooney, John Goodman, Matt Damon and others? It's the true story of how the Allies saved a lot of the art work that the Germans stole from all over Europe. The Bruges Madonna by Michaelangelo was one of the treasured pieces that they recovered. I know you also visited Neuschwanstein when you did the GAS tour. A lot of stolen statuary was hidden there. Also, the town of Hallstatt is close to another salt mine where artwork was hidden.

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608 posts

I did watch Monuments Men, but long before I traveled to any of those places. It would be neat to watch it again.