Day 4 – Saturday
We bid farewell to Sugar the cat and Amsterdam on Saturday morning and made our way to the train station. Our train journey took us through a mix of urban (a shocking amount of graffiti) and rural (a shocking amount of greenery and water) scenery, including The Hague and Rotterdam. We stopped briefly in Antwerp to catch another train and a little over an hour later, we arrived in Bruges.
A cab seemed the best bet for getting from the train station to our hotel. Ironically, Bruges – the smallest destination on our trip – would be the only place we took cabs. The bus system wasn’t easy to figure out though, and the streets are alllll cobblestone which is NOT fun to drag suitcases over, wheeled or otherwise. Our cab driver gave us a mini-tour of the town on the drive. We learned that there are only around 20,000 locals but 4 million tourists visit each year. There are 80+ hotels and 400+ restaurants.
Travel tip #7: This is total personal preference but we avoid taxis as much as possible when traveling. Learning the public transportation system is a great way to get into the culture of a destination – awesome people watching! It is so easy to be cheated by a taxi driver if you don’t know the area.
The hotel – De Tuilereen – was gorgeous. It sits directly across from a canal and is a beautifully maintained building that was originally a palace in the 1500’s.
We settled in and then set out to explore. Such a beautiful town! Such old buildings, some dating back to the 9th century! As mentioned earlier, the streets are all cobblestone, adding to the historic feel and charm.
The hotel had recommended a dinner spot called Bierbrasserie Cambrinus. I had the sole fillet and Kevin had sliced chicken with mushrooms, onions, bacon, potatoes au gratin, and this amazing beer based gravy. The gravy was the single best food category item of the entire trip. I managed to resist the urge to lick the plate after Kevin had finished his meal – keepin’ it classy. Kevin also had a Belgian beer that was 10.5% alcohol. Good thing he had a hearty meal to soak that up.
We continued exploring after dinner. Lots of chocolate shops. And speaking of chocolate…when in Belgium. We had this amazing waffle, covered in chocolate syrup with whipped cream and ice cream. It was beautiful.
The sugar coma soon followed and we made our way back to our beautiful hotel room.
Travel tip #8: Definitely try AirBnB, if you haven’t already. Their site is easy to navigate, it’s an economical option (usually), and what better way to see how another culture lives than to actually stay in a typical apartment/house/condo/whatever. Our experience with AirBnB in Amsterdam and Paris was very good – the apartments were as described, located in fantastic (non-touristy) areas, and the prices were very reasonable. Awesome experience. I did learn something about myself though – I am more of a hotel girl. And maybe more on the expensive end of the price spectrum kind of hotel girl. In Bruges, it was just heavenly to have a front desk to ask questions of and to have all the comforts of a nice hotel. I’m the thrifty sort…but nice hotels may be where I splurge.
Day 5 – Sunday
The following morning, I slept in and Kevin went exploring. He beat the tourist rush and got fantastic pictures of the quiet, peaceful morning with few people around.
Once I was up-and-at-’em, we grabbed breakfast in a little pastry shop and then continued to explore. The hotel was very centrally located, which was awesome for bathroom breaks, shedding layers as the day got warmer, and to drop off purchases through the day.
Travel tip #9: It is not uncommon to have to pay to use the restroom in Europe, so be sure to keep a few 1 Euro coins on you.
We went on a canal tour which was awesome. Even if it was kind of a little speed boat, packed very full of people, which stressed me out because I don’t swim and I don’t like small spaces with lots of people. The tour guide was great and we learned some really interesting things during the 30 minute tour.
We couldn’t go to Belgium and not have mussels, so that was our stop for lunch. They were delicious, even if the waiter was hesitant about recommending them because it’s the beginning of the mussel season.
Kevin followed lunch up with a chocolate rice crispy dessert and then we made a tour of churches and other sights. We kept raving about how well maintained everything is – to think of the years those buildings have faced on a tumultuous continent. It is amazing.
^ Basilica of the Holy Blood – houses a cloth that allegedly has the blood of Jesus (from the crucifixion) on it. ^
^ Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child – found in the Church of Our Lady ^
We grabbed dinner at Mozarthuys, where the cozy atmosphere was made even more inviting with a hearty Flemish beef stew for each of us. After dinner we sought out the best gelato in town – Gelatina Da Vinci. Mint chocolate chip (Amy) and chocolate hazelnut and Speculoos (Kevin). So delicious!
Then it was back to the hotel for the night. In the morning, we were headed to Paris!
Travel tip #10: I highly recommend a trip to Bruges. Try to avoid going on a weekend though. There were a shocking number of tourists considering how early it was in the tourist season and we think that this is partially due to the fact that Bruges is an easy weekend trip for Europeans. Maybe the week would be better? Pure speculation, but worth considering if you want to hit this beautiful, historic destination.