Part one about my day in Brussels is here. Read it already? Then you may continue…
I didn’t really know much about this pretty little city until I watched the film. Yes, that one with Colin Whatshisface. Delightfully dark tale. I remember thinking what a charming little place, I must visit it! Sadly, I think quite a few other people must’ve watched that film/thought that too as the train to Bruges from Gare du Midi/Zuidstation was packed.
It takes just over an hour to travel to Bruges from Brussels on the fast train so it’s a great day trip to take. The train stops at Ghent on the way so you could take another detour there. We were lucky, the friendly guy at the ticket office said, as we could take advantage of a special shopping ticket that had started that day (5th December) to Bruges which meant we only paid a total of €22 instead of €50+. Ooh thrifty!
We were waiting for the train to appear on the cold, windy platform when I heard music and cheers further up. Being a curious kitten I walked closer to inspect. A full on dance party complete with crowd was a-happening at the end of the platform with a film crew on the opposite side. I had to be held back so as to go running up and join my musical brethren and instead delighted myself with throwing a few modest shapes where I was. It looked like so much fun – and typical of the utterly crazy, happy-happy joy-joy two faces that Brussels seems to have.
After being turfed out of first class like peasants (just kidding – but we didn’t realise and weren’t going to pay up another €40+ each) and there being no seats left, we ended up on the floor by the doors. At least we both had a view for the journey!
Bruges station is just a ten minute walk away from the medieval centre. Basically, come out, cross the dual carriageway and follow the hordes towards the spires. If you’re looking to avoid anyone English, you can’t. Sorry. Bruges is like a colder version of the Costa del Sol! English everywhere, and mostly in loved up pairs.
Here’s one of my traveller tips – read as mini rant: Leave the heels at home if you want to explore Bruges (or Brussels) properly. Cobbles and heels are not a good combination in any weather. Also, if you’re coming along in winter then wear proper winter clothes. Bring a hat, wear a scarf, use gloves. The icy wind managed to whip my breath away on a few occasions and I was wrapped up waaaarrrmmm, but I saw so many Kim K wannabes in their little capelets and armless camel coloured coats shivering like fools, catching colds to head back to the office on Monday and infecting everyone with their lurgies, stumbling around in their heels like a street style feature was about to pap them. Basically, wear proper clothes and you’ll be fine. We were lucky with the weather and had no rain, just a very, very cold wind!
I thought it was probably best to start at the Belfort first, before the queues became really horrible but even so by the time we arrived there was a 30 minute wait. Only 70 people can be accommodated at a time within the tower itself so it was a case of one-in-one-out. Still, I was happy (ish) to queue (must be the British in me) and paid the €8 each to walk up the 366 steps to the belfry. I was happy, my thighs were not!!
If you’re claustrophobic or can’t manage spiral staircases then this is not the attraction for you. Ditto for any fears about heights or general giddiness. Be prepared to give way to people coming down, don’t be like one group of tourists who thought we were stopping on the stairs for our own amusement and tried to walk past us. They got a very sharp retort in Portuguese when they didn’t expect it! – basically me showing that I have Latin blood, so don’t mess with me. *smiles sweetly*
I was really happy that we arrived at the top just as the bells started to chime. They were loud but not ear splittingly so, and the view was pretty amazing, especially to see all the way to the coast at Zeebrugge.
By this point I was absolutely famished and needed my energy replenished with some moules-frites. We stopped off at a cafe and devoured a pot each. Now we could comfortably enjoy the pleasures Bruges had to offer.
I thought Brussels was full of chocolate and beer shops but the amount in Bruges takes the speculoos biscuit. Weirdly, the smell of so much chocolate in concentrate put me right off and the crowds around many of these places meant I gave them a wide berth anyways. We did venture in to a place called The Bottle Shop with extremely helpful and knowledgable staff and SO much beer/ale/drink that hubby didn’t know where to start! There’s a Belgian Gouden Carolus whisky single malt aged in Bourbon casks coming home with us to join the growing collection as I’m not a beer fan at all sadly!
I love an old apothecary; the ordered rows of bottles and potions appeals to my inner Monica. Like most places on the continent, there’s a pharmacy on every street. I needed a top up of my favourite spritz toner (Caudalie Grape Water) as I was running low. This apotheek was the perfect place to top up!
The Christmas crowds were stifling at times but what I liked is that you could turn a corner and be on a quiet little street by yourself, just you and the lovely Flemish buildings with their architecture and details and a pretty spire peeking out.
Walking out from the Burg, towards the canals was this gilded footbridge between two buildings. Bruges definitely warrants a look back over your shoulder to see its hidden details.
The charming basilica has an upper and lower chapel; the lower being a Romanesque style (round arches, pretty in its simplicity) and the upper was remodelled in a Gothic style (arches, gold, slightly garish by comparison). The relic of holy blood is contained in a vial in the upper chapel and you pay – I think it was five euros – for the privilege of walking past it. I didn’t, but you may wish to.
I was feeling hungry (again!) and needed a sit down for my very weary feet and something to stave off my cravings. Walking around we found a charming little tea room that would have seemed just as perfect nestled on a quaint village high street in the Cotswolds. For some stupid reason I forgot to note the name or location, but if I find it I will update! The mini cakes were delicious, but I opted for the waffles. SO GOOD.
All in all I really enjoyed Bruges/Brugge and I shouldn’t hold the pre-Christmas crowds against it. I definitely want to re-visit in slightly less crowded times and warmer temps – not too warm though as I’d be tempted to take a dip in the canal, plus there’s the whole humidity and wasp/bee quandary I face whenever I venture outside. There was so much we didn’t do, so many museums and sights that we didn’t see. I might even be tempted to get in one of the little boats and tour of the canals. Maybe. *shifty eyes*
We started walking back to the station to catch the train back to Brussels and as if to prove a point of how stunning a place it is, the sun set over the Groenerei / Steenhouwersdijk canal and turned the cloudy skies in to a riot of fire.
PS – The train back was rather packed and so this smart fellow, who may have had a few beers and trappist ales beforehand, had a fantastic space saving idea…