Bruges--more than chocolate and lace

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Oct 13th, 2012, 08:46 PM
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Bruges--more than chocolate and lace

DH and I returnd earlier this week from two weeks in Belgium and London. We decided some months ago to visit London and booked our flights with British Airways miles and an apartment for a week with One Fine Stay. After some research here on Fodors and some family encouragement we decided to spend part of our holiday in Bruges, a small city I had visited almost 30 years ago.

We arrived at Heathrow at 10am and transfered to our London hotel, the Crown Plaza St. James which we booked with our remaining BA miles. It was well located for a short stay. We walked to lunch at the Rubens at the Palace Hotel and then did a little walking, window shopping and picture taking. On our walking tour we passed Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, St James Park and Parliament. We enjoyed dinner at the on site Bistro 51

We left Londonthe next morning on the Eurostar at 11:00 and cruised to Brussels. After the beautiful station at St. Pancras, Brussels Midi was an unattractive concrete let down. We bought our tickets to Bruges and asked at the Information booth which train and track to take. As it turned out the woman at that window gave us the wrong info. We were on a pokey regional train that stopped in a bunch of towns. When the conductor came through he tried to explain to us and came back to make sure we got off in Ghent and switched to what was probably the train we should have taken in the first place.

Once in Bruges we went to the taxi queue and lucked out with our driver. He provided a guided tour as we drove along. After 29 years I had forgotten just how beautiful Bruges is. We checked into the Hotel Oud Huis de Peellaert and got exactly the room we wanted-- away from the street and without the charming beams and slanted ceilings we don't want to meet in the dark. The bath is very nice with a radiant heat floor. We have 3 windows that open so we can have fresh air at night and being 2 flights up we have a view over rooftops.

After a nap attack we went to find dinner. The desk clerk suggested 3 restaurants only one of which we found and its menu didn't really appeal. We found another little place nearby which ended up being quite good. We chatted a little with the German couple seated next to us. The husband referred to himself as a "pensioner" and we explained DH was the same. They had driven the California coast about 5 years ago in an RV and found it beautiful. They are from Trier which I visited 29 years ago on the same trip which first took me to Bruges.

We strolled back to our hotel for a really good night's sleep
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Oct 13th, 2012, 09:04 PM
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Jet lag and the onions in my dinner the previous night kept me from getting a good night's sleep as I had hoped. However we enjoyed the breakfast at the hotel then went out exploring. We walked to the canal nearest our hotel at Jan van Eyck Place. As we walked around we passed the ChocoStory museum, many cute cafes and shops. I visited the Christmas shop we saw while walking last night but didn't buy anything. I wasn't feeling all that great and as it got close to lunch asked DH if he would mind if we went in a little place so I could get a cup of tea. The next one we came to looked good so we went in. The shop's sign read Het Dagelijks Brood and the cafe turned out to be a branch of Le Pain Quotidien which we were familiar with in Paris as well as a location 10 miles from our home. There weren't many people so we sat at the communal table and enjoyed the tea then lingered long enough to order lunch. Perfect.
I don't often take catnaps (DH is the king of the "cat") but after lunch we went back to the hotel and had a short but refreshing nap. We would need the rest as our plan for the afternoon was a canal boat ride and shopping! The boat sped along faster than I expected but we still got to see a lot of the beautiful buildings and took lots of photos.

After the cruise we went in search of the fabled "Bailey's Surprise" chocolates for my sisters but I began to think my sisters made up this candy just so we will have to visit every chocolate shop in town. Tough assignment.

We passed the Duc de Bourgogne, the hotel where I stayed with my cousins in 1983. Thought we might have dinner there but the menu did not appeal. We are planning to have dinner at the Cafe Erasmus which we passed while walking.
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Oct 13th, 2012, 09:09 PM
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Our third day in Bruges we slept in so I hope we can finally shake the jet lag. We finished breakfast around 10am and went walking. We headed to find one of the laundramats so we can wash a small batch of clothes on Sunday. The woman at our hotel was a block off on directions but we found it. Then we walked west to the Begijnhof and explored a new area. The Begijnhof had a sign saying no photos which made me wonder if that was posted 29 years ago. I have a great shot taken on that trip. As we walked and shot more photos the low battery sign came on the camera again. We just bought batteries. This time we bought Duracell Plus and hope it is just poor batteries and not the camera. We found lunch at a little cafe on the Wijngaard Plein (square?) called the Lace Maker. I had a simple ham baguette while DH got a really great looking salad--it's good to share. Still lots of chocolate and lace shops as well as another Kathe Wohlfarht Christmas shop in this area. DH found a bench in the sun while I looked at Christmas goodies.

We kept walking and shooting photos until we came to a cute shop on a corner called Carpe Diem. Inside was a pastry case with Parisian style desserts and to the right was a tea salon. Perfect. I had tea and a waffle (our first) while DH had a cappuchino and selection of cookies again good for sharing. The waiter (probably the owner) was fun to talk with. We walked back toward our hotel taking more and more photos. Finally we split up and DH went to the hotel while I revisted a couple of shops. Our new rule is to buy when you see it and and not think you will go back. The gift shops all start looking very similar. I also found a few artisans set up in the former Fish Market and one said they will be back this weekend. I hope we have time to see them.

Tomorrow is our Flanders Fields WWI tour.
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Oct 13th, 2012, 09:18 PM
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Today we went on the Flanders Fields Tour with Quasimodo. I found out about it online and we booked from home. A taxi picked us up at our hotel to meet the tour bus at the train station. Quasimodo is run by Philippe and his Australian wife Sharon. On the tour were assorted Yanks, Brits, Aussies, at least one German and two Scottish ladies who were chronically late to the bus, about 20 people in all. We started at a moving Canadian memorial then went to the Tyne Cot British cemetery and visited several sites along the front line that barely changed over 4 years of war. The uselessness and destruction was almost overwhelming. We also saw an example of the trenches, a German cemetery, a huge depression where the British had tunneled under German trenches and blew them up, the rebuilt town of Ypres which was completely destroyed during the war and the Menin Gate memorial there. Probably most moving was visiting the field dressing station where John McCrae wrote his famous poem "In Flanders Fields".

Munitions and artifacts have been unearthed for years and the place we stopped for lunch includes a private museum which we had admission to. It reminded me of the many small museums in Normandy and had a very expressive collection.

The Belgians suffered a lot and have felt the after effects of the war for years. For decades tunnels have caved in that have been built over and there are still munitions found. There is a special Belgian army base in this area which handles any that are found.

As we drove through the area I was struck by how prosperous the farms appear. Large expanses of corn and other crops, big cows, a few goats and other animals. The houses are very pretty with lovely gardens. Then it struck me, unlike other areas of Europe or Midwestern American farms, these homes are new, built mostly after WWII. Belgium needed decades to recover, Ypres wasn't completely rebuilt until the 1960s, but it looks well now.

It was a really interesting day but a long one. When we returned to Brugge we were dropped at the train station and an easy walk to the center of town. We had seen a square the day before with lots of restaurants and had dinner at an Italian restaurant called Adriatico. It was pretty good; DH had four cheese penne which was really good. I had salmon and penne.
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Oct 14th, 2012, 06:17 AM
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Sunday. After the long tour day we slept really well and headed down to breakfast around 9am. The breakfast room is very bright and nicely decorated. The food is pretty good with "German style" (bread, meat, cheese), American/British style (scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages) and Continental (yogurt, cereal, bread and pastries). We tried a pastry one morning but stuck to our granola, yogurt and a little bread the rest of the mornings. After breakfast we spoke to the desk clerk about the laundromat near the windmills that the young Australian woman on yesterday's tour told us about. This clerk marked it on our map and we headed off. It was an easy walk as it was on our own street. It was a large laundromat and pretty easy to figure out. With the wash going and DH reading his book I walked to the windmills. I reached two of them along a canal and saw one of the old city gates and a charming cafe. The fence around one of the windmills was made to look like lace. So much cuteness that even 4 days is not enough to enjoy it all.

I returned in time to move the laundry to the dryers and start my book. Once finished with laundry we headed back to the hotel to drop off our now clean clothes. We had lunch at cafe nearby where DH out ordered me with a great looking and tasting salad while I had a tartine (open faced sandwich). After lunch we strolled through town again. There was a craft fair in the old fish market and I enjoyed looking at and buying a few things including some watercolors. DH and I split up for a bit and I visited the Kathe Wohlfarht Christmas store near our hotel. We had coffee at a cute place facing a canal (one of the many cute places in Bruges) and then read menus for dinner. I found a shop with beautiful jewelry and a gardening/kitchen shop--jackpot! Fun to look but I didn't buy anything.

We decided to return to the restaurant where we ate dinner the first night. They had the best roast chicken ("kip" in Flemish) and chicken was on surprisingly few menus. There is so much seafood, especially mussels, shrimp and salmon. I ordered chicken from the set menu while DH selected salmon in chive sauce. Our table was outside under an awning but away from the heaters. While we were there DH encouraged another couple reading the menu to come in. They ended up sitting at a table next to us and we enjoyed speaking with them very much. They live in Kent and had visited Brugge on their way to visit their son in Germany a couple years ago and ended up staying here instead of moving on to their planned stop. Now they wanted to come back and explore it some more. They were staying at the Hotel Navarra which they raved about and said they hadn't moved the car from the parking lot since they arrived. We said goodnight and walked the way they directed to spy the Hotel Navarra in a courtyard behind gates. It has a swimming pool and I do remember looking it up and finding it was above our budget. Our own hotel had some pricey rooms but we chose the lower price and skipped the crystal chandelier. We enjoyed walking through Bruges one last time then packed for our train travel to London tomorrow.
I'll continue this trip report as a new post under the UK.
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Oct 14th, 2012, 07:35 AM
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This is a city we would like to visit. Thanks for all the deatails.
Any photos?
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Oct 14th, 2012, 08:25 AM
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Thanks for your trip report - really interesting reading. I love Bruges as well.
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Oct 14th, 2012, 06:35 PM
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TPAYT--We posted some photos here: http://brugeslondon.shutterfly.com/pictures/13

We really enjoyed Bruges. Sure it's touristy but we had good meals, found quiet areas to enjoy away from the weekend crowds and there seem to be a lot of good hotel choices. I think I would like to visit again if we return to Paris for a future trip.
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Oct 16th, 2012, 09:34 PM
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One last post on Bruges and Belgium. We traveled on the Eurostar heading back to London. We purchased the basic fare and there is even less room than a coach airplane seat. At least the trip was only for 2 hours. We asked about upgrading to Premier class and thought the fellow said it was 17 euro each, turns out it is really 70 euros so we decided to stick with our little seats. The Belgian country side was very pretty and the ride smooth.

In the Bruges station we were trying to figure out which train to take, not wanting to get on the pokey regional train again. The young man behind us in line heard us talking and got out of line to help us. From Bruges any train going to "Bruxelles" will stop at the "midi" station for the Eurostar. He told us he was not in a hurry and we would not inconvenience him. Overall the people we have met have been very nice, just a couple of canal boat ticket sellers that seemed completely bored with their jobs and wanted to be anywhere else.

Once through Belgian and British passport control we had a small sandwich and used the facilities. Shakespeare and the Queen were pictured on the doors to the stalls in the women's loo. Seemed rather undignified for the Bard of Avon and Her Majesty especially during her Jubilee year.

Finally we were on the train speeding to London.
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Oct 16th, 2012, 11:37 PM
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Enjoying your report very much -- we were in London and Bruges in August as well -- enjoyed Bruges very much -- we were at the Aragon Hotel (one of their nearby rooms a few steps away from the hotel). Enjoyed our time there. I agree about the Brussels train station.
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Oct 21st, 2012, 04:21 AM
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Wonderful photos! Seeing them really makes me want to go to Bruges even more.. especially loved the evening shots.
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Oct 21st, 2012, 06:42 AM
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Nice TR and photos!
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Oct 21st, 2012, 04:04 PM
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Thank you, we really enjoyed Bruges. I would certainly consider a return to Bruges and pair it with a visit to Amersterdam or Paris.
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