Belgium (Part 02): Exploring Bruges
We woke up early to leave Brussels (part one) on a painless, relaxing hour-long train journey to Bruges. Since we arrived a bit too early to check in to our Airbnb apartment we hung out for a bit in Markt Square which wasn’t so bad considering the mild, sunny weather and pleasant venue. Shortly thereafter we made our way to the apartment to meet with our host’s mother who was tasked with handing over the keys and showing us the place—the only problem was that she spoke absolutely no English! As it so often happens when traveling, we awkwardly stumbled through as much non-verbal communication as we could. It’s so funny that even without exchanging one word you can really sense a person’s warmth and desire to help. It was a very enjoyable non-conversation!
The apartment we were staying in was a beautiful three-story house set away from the busy center of Bruges down a side street off of one of the city’s canals. After unpacking some of our stuff and getting a feel for the place we set off for lunch at Sanservia Bagel Salon based on one of the host’s recommendations in the house manual. We ordered the Edward (goat cheese, pear, radishes) and the Olivia (avocado, bacon) and found a spot at Koningin Astridpark to sit and enjoy them. With full bellies and being blessed with beautiful weather, we set off to explore the cute and romantic atmosphere. After seeing a vial of Christ’s blood at the aptly-named Basilica of the Holy Blood and passing through the Church of Our Lady, we stumbled upon a Picasso exhibit at the Site Oud Sint-Jan, a former hospital whose buildings and grounds now serve as a stunning location for art exhibitions.
Stopping for what we thought would be a quick snack, we ordered fries from Frituur ‘t Bootje before realizing the eatery was cash-only. Not to be deterred, especially from fries, Rico set off to find an ATM which turned into a 30-minute ordeal including inadvertent entry into a building he was told sternly he “should not be in.” We eventually had our fries, but they didn’t quite hit the spot. This is when we had the brilliant idea to have Belgian waffles for dinner! We wandered back toward the center of the city and found Oyya, which depending on whom you ask offers the best waffles in Bruges. If you asked us, we would agree—Rico had the waffle with whipped cream, caramel and chocolate and Britt had the waffle with vanilla ice cream and chocolate. We still drool anytime we think about them!
Once back at the apartment later in the evening, our host Nico was able to come by and introduce himself. We had a nice chat which reminded us of some of the reasons why we like to opt for Airbnb over any other form of accommodations. The rest of the evening was spent hanging around Burg Square and the canals, taking in the beauty of the city at night and all lit up. This was enhanced by a series of lit text art installations by Nathan Coley; the one in Burg Square read, quite fittingly, “A Place Beyond Belief.”
Our second day started with donuts and pastries from Fijnbakkery Lieven and a canal boat tour. The tour, like others of its type, offers a charming way to get a different perspective on the city and also an opportunity to learn more about its history. Sticking with this theme, we followed up the tour with a climb up the belfry—Bruges’ distinctive medieval bell tower—to see the city from above. After a long line to get in and quite a long walk up narrow stairs, we emerged at the top amid gusts of amazingly strong wind. We enjoyed the view as much as we could, but it was tough to stand still with the whipping winds!
All that work got us hungry so we made our way back to Sanservia Bagel Salon for a couple of bagels and then set off for a walk to Minnewater Lake—the “Lake of Love.” The walk takes you to the southern edge of Bruges through a series of picturesque streets and along a zigzagging canal. Once there, there are a series of bridges crossing the water from which to take in the views and also a heavily forested park that made it feel a long way from the city. On the way back toward the center we got waffles on our mind and decided to visit Oyya for round two. Britt stuck with the waffle with vanilla ice cream and chocolate but Rico tried the waffle with Bueno Bar ice cream, whipped cream and caramel.
One of the things strongly recommended by our host was a wooden platform floating at the intersection of a couple of canals. We made our way there and were greeted by a small group of people taking in the sun, so we did what anyone would have done and joined them! It was amazing to take in the beauty of the city and its architecture and the sounds of small boats slushing along the canals in a quiet corner tucked away from most of the tourists.
We didn’t realize how much this relaxation was going to be crucial for us as our next endeavor was to rent a tandem bike to ride outside of Bruges—something we found was harder than it looks! We certainly were a spectacle for the first ten minutes trying to figure out how to work together to go in the right direction and pedal in unison! Once we got our bearings and into a groove with how to pedal, we were fast on our way out to the city limits. Our sights were set on Damme, a small village 4 miles away, easily traveled to via bicycle with a very straightforward and flat bicycle path. It was fun to get around in a different way and to see the countryside at our own pace—a pace which was perhaps a bit slow because we realized too late that the rental shop was due to close and we needed to get back! Luckily the guy at the shop waited for us, but that ride back was a stressful one!
We ended the day with spicy chicken wok with rice and veggies and homemade spring rolls with goat cheese, wok veggies and rice at Den Amand Bistro. This would be our last night in Belgium and in the morning we were catching a train back to Brussels, but not before spending the day in the medieval university town of Ghent!