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We saw London, we saw France as well as The Netherlands and Belgium

We saw London, we saw France as well as The Netherlands and Belgium

Old Feb 20th, 2014, 01:33 AM
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Maudie and Kerouac this is the only city we have visited where there was such blatant pandering for money.
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Old Feb 20th, 2014, 09:38 AM
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Day 8 (9/25) Bruges
We got an early start walking about Bruges to explore before the tour buses arrived. At the Grote Markt was the Wednesday farmers market which was colorful with flower stands, bags of tulip bulbs, fresh cut meats, fresh cut flowers, flower plants, assorted cheeses and baked goods. Oh the baked goods. There were lovely tarts, artisan breads, croissants, rolls, brownies, and so much more. A produce vendor was doing a selling pitch in a sing song voice. A sausage vendor had every type of dried sausage from kangaroo to donkey and everything in between. We bought a mushroom and a donkey sausage to try later as well as some cheese and bread.

Breakfast was a couple of pastries enjoyed while sitting on a bench in front of the belfry. The croissants were lovely and since it was a warm sunny morning, it was pleasant watching the locals gather to do their shopping until Saturday when the market returns.

We noticed a small 3 D metal model of the belfry in the area in front of the belfry with a quadrilingual Braille description for the visually impaired. The carillon plays on the quarter hour with a much longer piece on the hour. There was also a free carillon concert at 11:00.

We also purchased some cheese for later and enjoyed taking photos of the postcard perfect offerings. It was mostly locals here doing their shopping as the tour buses hadn’t arrived yet when we were there.

We dropped off our packages at our hotel which was right behind the belfry on the edge of the markt and decided to take a canal ride. It was really a nice sunny day and the ride was really fun as well as educational. Everything was picture perfect. Unfortunately there was a rather large man sitting on the other side of DH and blocked out most of the view in that direction. He kept holding up his camera and his arm blocked everything in front. I did my best to work around him and that was ok.

We went under the bridge over the Dijver where we saw the statue of Saint John Nepomuk, a Czeck priest (Prague) who was killed and thrown into the river because he refused to reveal a confession to a jealous husband who suspected his wife cheating on him. He is the saint of the confession and the saint of the sailors.

We learned that the symbol of Bruges is the swan. Not only will you see them everywhere in the canals, but you'll also encounter some carved in statues or friezes. Bruges is often referred to as "Swan City".

We explored the area and checked out some of the chocolate shops as we went. We would pop in and buy a couple to taste if they looked good and continue on our walk. There are chocolate shops on every street and often side by side. We tried to be discriminating as what we sampled and stuck to those that were hand crafted. One that we visited was Dumon chocolate shop. They have wonderful creamy chocolates with no labels in English. Fortunately I know enough French food terms to understand them. It is a family business of Madame Dumon and her children.

The Chocolate Line offers wonderful, creative flavor combos made by Dominique Person. We tried the Havana cigar, lavender, lemongrass and passion fruit/lime/vodka.

Mary Chocolatier was one of our favorites. These are hand-made and hand-decorated and some of the creamiest I tried. The hazelnut and almond praline with nougatine pieces was amazing. Oh so creamy with a bit of crunch. I still dream of Mary

We visited The Church of Our Lady which has a delicate Madonna and Child (1504), slightly smaller than life size, by Michelangelo. It is said to be the only statue of his to leave Italy in his lifetime. It has been kept here since 1514 and was done while he took breaks while doing David.
It is in an area of the church that is roped off and you must pay a bit to see it. The fee is currently reduced since the church, built in the 13 c. is undergoing major restoration and some areas are not accessible. Visitors are also required to stay 15 feet away from the sculpture. It was well worth it and such a beautiful statue.

Beyond the statue in the apse behind the high altar, are the very impressive 13th-century painted sepulchers and reclining tombs of Charles the Bold and his daughter, Mary of Burgundy. The dog and lion at their feet are symbols of fidelity and courage. These sepulcher paintings show Mary represented as the Queen of Heaven (on the throne, carrying a crown and scepter) and Mother of God (with baby Jesus on her lap). They also show many angels swinging thuribles (incense burners)..

The wooden balcony to the left of the painted altarpiece is part of the Gruuthuse mansion, providing the noble family with prime seats for Mass.

There are also many beautiful paintings. To the right of the tombs is a pillar with a metal hand sculpture coming out of it. I was not able to find any info on it and it is very curious. The Baroque wood pulpit has a roof that seems to float in mid-air.

Much of this area will be closed beginning in 2014 for two years so we were fortunate to see it during our visit. Outside located next to the church is this cool drinking well.

We decided to stop for lunch at De Postiljon. It is a small family run restaurant in the old town with a nice sunny dining area. The wife does the front of house and the husband does the cooking. We could tell that most of the diners were locals because she greeted them as old friends and by name. I had the Stoofvlees (a sweet sour Flemish stew with beef and prunes) which came with frites. The gravy was thick and nicely spiced with clove and other seasonings. DH had the veal schnitzel with frites. We each had a Belgium beer. He had a triple and I had a dribble. His was light and mine was dark. They were both really good. This spot was so different from yesterday’s lunch. When she presented the bill, she told us that the gratuity was automatically included so we did not have to leave one. That info is also printed right on the menu.

After lunch, we went looking for Luc Vanlaere, a harpist who gives an amazing harp concert for about 45 minutes. He is obviously passionate about his music and it definitely shows during his performance. He explains about his different instruments after he has performed.
Admission is free but donations are welcome. There was no pressure at all to buy or pay a donation, just a simple sign with a box and a display of CDs for sale (quite unusual in Bruges). He composes all his arrangements and it was a beautiful, relaxing way to get away from the crowds that were now filling the streets.

We walked some more enjoying the sun and left the crowded Grote Markt area.
We walked over to the Crowne Plaza Hotel to check out the ruins preserved in their basement. They were only allowed to build here if they agreed to preserve the ruins and allow visitors to see them when there is not a conference being held.

Here’s a bit of the back story. In about 900 A.D. when Viking ships docked here to rape and pillage, Baldwin Iron Arm built a fortress (castrum) to protect his Flemish people. In 950, the fort was converted to St. Donatian's church which became one of the largest churches in Bruges.

We asked at the desk and they directed us to the basement where the archeological site has been preserved. Here you can see the ruins of the fort and church. In the basement are conference rooms lined with old stone walls and display cases of objects found in the Runs. On the left hangs a photo of a document announcing the Vente De Materiaux (sale of materials). When Napoleon destroyed the church in the early 1800s, its bricks were auctioned off. A local builder bought them and now the pieces of the old cathedral are embedded in other buildings throughout Bruges.

There are oak pilings carved to a point, once driven into this peat bog to support the fort and shore up its moat. Paintings show the church that replaced it. You can walk among the stone walls that are from the foundations of the ambulatory around the church altar.

When they excavated, they found a town water hole which turned up a thousand years of pottery, animal skulls, rosary beads, dice, coins, keys, thimbles, pipes, spoons, and Delftware.

There is a 14th century painted sarcophagi with a crucifixion on the west end and the virgin and child on the east. We had trouble viewing the whole sarcophagi because food service had placed some food trays on it. We continued to explore further and then saw someone come and remove the trays so we walked back over to get a better view of it.

The best part was that we were the only tourists there to see the ruins and it is absolutely free. I guess most tourists either don’t know about this or are too busy doing the big tourist spots to their research about the area before they arrive.

Exiting the hotel, we walked south under the golden figure over an archway called Blinde Ezelstraat (Blind Donkey Street) where in medieval times, the donkeys, carrying fish from the North Sea on their backs, were stopped here so their owners could put blinders on them so they would cross the water between the old city and the fish market.

Midway down on the left side (knee level) is an original iron hinge from the city’s south gate back when the city was ringed by a moat and closed at night at 10 p.m. On the right wall, at eye level is a black patch that shows you how grimy the city had become before a 1960s cleaning. Turn around and look back, because the backside of the gate is just wonderful to see.

Cross the bridge over what was a 13th century moat over the Groenerei Canal between Burg Square and Koningin Astrid Park and on your left are the arcades of the fish market (Vismarkt). The North Sea is 12 miles away and the fresh catch is sold here (Tuesday thru Saturday 6:00 to 1:00). The rest of the time, you will find souvenirs shops.

This tiny picturesque square is Huidevettersplein whre you will find lots of restaurants. This was once the headquarters of the town's skinners and tanners. On the facade of the Hotel Due de Bourgogne are four old relief panels above the windows showing scenes from the leather trade.

If you walk to Rozenhoedkaai, you can look back to your right and see a postcard view of the bell tower reflected in a quiet canal lined with old houses. Seeing buildings rising straight from the water makes you understand why this was once called the Venice of the North.

At this angle, you can see the bell tower leans about four feet. It has been monitored since 1740 but no change has been seen. On your left down the Dijver Canal is the spire of The Church of Our Lady. Between you and the church are the Europa College and two museums. It was a warm evening and couples were lined up along the bridge enjoying the romantic atmosphere.

We continued to walk and ended up back at Grote Markt. Here is where the statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck has stood since 1887. The statue depicts two friends Jan Breidel and Pieter due Coninc clutching a sword and shield looking toward France as they lead uprising against the French king in 1302. They won Flanders its freedom. The pedestal has four friezes: the Bruges Matins (18 May 1302), the Battle of the Golden Spurs (11 July 1302), the return of the Bruges militia (1302) and the Battle of Mons-en-Pévèle (1304). The corner statues represent Bruges, Ghent, Kortrijk and Ypres, recognizable by their coats of arms. A red white and blue lion flag of Bruges, a black yellow and red flag of Belgium and a blue one with a circle of yellow stars flag of European Union fly near it.

If you thought this report too wordy today, please forgive me.

We continued to walk about and take photos the rest of the day while window shopping. In the evening, we bought sausage sandwiches and frites from one of the vendors in front of the belfry and chose a seat on a bench in the market center to listen to the carillon when it played. The tourist crowds were gone, the sun was setting and we just chilled and people watched. It was a lovely last night in Bruges.
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 01:49 AM
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Fantastic report, very informative. I am also planning a trip to Netherlands and Belgium this year and your report is quite helpful. Just one query .. how many days should we ideally spend in Belgium .. 3 or 4 ?
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 05:56 AM
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We spent two days in Bruges and it was enough time to do the things we wanted to do. We spent three quarters of a day in Brussels. If you want to see any of the museums in Brussels you will need more time. If we had an extra day we would have taken a day trip from Bruges to another city.
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 06:02 AM
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Great details!
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 06:49 AM
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Thanks. I was afraid I was too detailed and putting everyone to sleep.
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 07:02 AM
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No, we all want the details here, especially if there are complications and problems!

The very worst trip "reports" that people sometimes post are along the lines of "I spent a great weekend in Paris -- saw the Eiffel, the Lourve, Montemarte and the big Church on the island. There was a good pizza place next to the hotel -- didn't need to go anywhere else."
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 10:03 AM
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Shy persons might get discouraged when the "Great report!" type comments slow down, but should take courage and persevere.

Great report, late.
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 10:32 AM
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75 euro a night - you did extremely well. Spring dates in 2014 are about twice that amount for that hotel.

Thank you for the tip about the ruins beneath the Crowne Plaza. That's just the kind of thing we love seeing.
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 10:59 AM
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Great report! I love all the details for someday when I go back. I have been several times to Bruges and have not seen some of the things you saw!

Please keep writing. Will you be posting any of your pictures?
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 11:26 AM
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That was great. Thanks. Now Bruges has made my short list.

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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 06:58 PM
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Thanks everyone for the encouragement. This is my first trip report so I was a bit unsure of what to put in and how much detail to offer.

Irishface I would like to post some pictures once I sort them out and get them loaded up.
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Old Feb 21st, 2014, 07:09 PM
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Day 9 (9/26) Bruges to Brussels

We left early as the city was starting to wake up with locals riding their bicycles and walking to work. We took the bus back to the train station, got tickets and took the local train to Brussels. We walked to our hotel and checked our bags at the desk.

We left at once to walk to the Grand Place about a 15 or 20 minute walk down Rue Neuve through a very commercial area lined with chain stores of both high end and midrange merchandise. We discovered the Notre-Dame du Finistere, a really lovely little church built from 1708 to 1730 right in the middle of modern commercialized Brussels. We only stopped to admire its exterior and take some photos. The inscription at the top reads “ laus tua in fines terrae” translated as “Your praise to the ends of the earth”. It seems so out of place but so lovely in this sea of commercialism.

We turned on Rue au Beurre (Boterstraat) on our way to the Grand Place (Grote Markt) and came across a quaint-looking church right across from the Brussels Stock Exchange (La Bourse). It’s called Saint Nicholas Church, named after the patron saint of traders, and is nearly 900 years old.

We took the time to go inside and found many some lovely items. There is a painting (Virgin and Sleeping Child) by Rubens, a 12th century Valdmir Icon of St Nicholas from Constantinople and an impressive marble side altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary that was added in the 15th century. There’s also a bronze shrine that contains relics from the Martyrs of Gorcum, Catholic priests who refused to convert to Protestantism and so were executed in 1572. We had no idea that so many treasures were here until we ventured in.

When you exit there is a cute milkmaid statue and as you walk up the street you can look to the left on Petite Rue au Beurre and see quaint little houses and shops that are built right up to the wall of the church.

Continuing up Rue au Beurre you will pass shops, bars and restaurants for the next few blocks but keep walking and you will enter the Grand Place.

The area is beautiful with the Town Hall topped with a statue of Saint Michael the patron saint of Brussels slaying a demon, the city museum (Musee de la Ville de Bruxelles) and many guild halls. The architecture is absolutely stunning with gold painted details and is the most beautiful square I have visited. It is stunning in sunlight so just image it lit up at night! We walked about for awhile and took photos before looking for a place to have lunch.

Having learned from our Bruges experience, we took some time to peruse the menus and glanced at the plates of food which were being eaten by the people sitting in the café courtyards. The ones directly around the center did not look promising however DH found a place called Brasserie de l'Ommegang which looked promising. It is on the edge of the Grand Place and offers a lovely view of it if you are lucky enough to sit near a window.

They didn't speak English but there was one person who did and he offered to help us with translations if needed. We were able to manage the menu and order without a problem. They served us spiced olives and a nicely seeded dinner roll to start. We ordered an appetizer to share of three cheese croquettes. They had a crunchy fried exterior with oozy cheese inside. I ordered the veal cheeks which came with petite carved boiled potatoes along with haricot vert and carrots. The broth was almost a jus. It was flavorful and delicious. I ordered a Duvel to go with it. DH had the riz de veau with potatoes, shrimp and sautéed spinach. He chose a Betchard unfiltered beer, “la biere de tubize” to drink.

After having such a fine meal we were ready to take on the city. As we were leaving, we noticed a plaque outside the restaurant on its exterior wall that said this guild house of the Butchers Guild is where Karl Marx worked on The Communist Manifesto during his three-year stay in Brussels.

We did more walking and photography. As we walked along, we came upon a crowd of people milling about something. As we got closer, we could see the Manneken Pis surrounded by wreaths of flowers and ribbons. People were going crazy over it. Go figure. At the moment he has a wardrobe of more than 600 costumes which are all preserved and on display in the City Museum at the Grand-Place with which they dress him from time to time. Today he is naked but it is warm and sunny. 

Rue Neuve was packed with shoppers as we headed back to our hotel. Young teenage girls in brightly colored blouses and skirts with clipboards were surrounding an older couple who looked lost. An older woman was in similar attire and was walking around just asking for money. We were aware of those around us and had no difficulties.

We got back to our room and found it was 27 degrees Celsius with no temperature control. We called the desk and they apologized saying they couldn’t change the temperature either and sent up a fan to cool down the room. The huge room was very posh with robes, slippers, heated towel racks in the bathroom with a sitting area off the sleeping area. There were drinks, coffee and teas. Still we were happy that we were not paying big Euros for it. We decided to eat a light evening meal and grabbed a smoked salmon wrap from the “Grab and Go” in the lobby and took it up to our room. We met another guest in the lobby while we were waiting to pay for our food and he told us that he has to come here once a year for a medical conference and he always has problems with the hotel site.
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Old Feb 22nd, 2014, 09:32 AM
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Enjoying your report. We'll be in Brussels in a couple of weeks but still don't have a hotel. What is the name of this one ? Thanks.
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Old Feb 22nd, 2014, 09:46 AM
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We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Le Place but it costs about 500 Euros a night. We only stayed there because we got it free with hotel points.
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Old Feb 22nd, 2014, 10:16 AM
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Day 10 (9/27) Brussels to Paris
We got before dawn and took a taxi to Gare du Midi where we caught the TGV to Lille and transferred to the TGV to Paris. We arrived around 10:30 a.m. and found the long queue to buy metro tickets. We patiently waited while watching the colorfully dressed girls and an old woman work the crowd asking for money. Announcements both verbal and written were everywhere cautioning about thieves and pickpockets.

I observed many travelers just letting their luggage sit unattended while walking about the train station. I guess they are the "low-hanging fruit".

We bought a carnet of tickets and took the metro 4 line to St. Denis-Strasbourg and transferred to the metro 8 and arrived at Grands Boulevard Metro station. Our hotel was right across the street. We fixed a cup of lavender tea that was in our room and decided that today would be one of exploring our immediate area.

We walked up Blvd. Poissonniere and stopped at Le Matin Bistro. I ordered the 2 course plat du jour of sirloin with a blue cheese sauce, fried cubes of potatoes and a small salad. For dessert I ordered a raspberry and vanilla panna cotta. The blue cheese sauce was quite good. The potatoes were nice and crispy on the outside and soft inside just the way I like them.

DH ordered the other plat du jour consisting of two pieces of baked fish. One was tuna and one was mackerel. His potatoes were boiled with an olive oil and parsley sauce along with haricot vert. He had apple pie for dessert. He said it was all good.

After lunch we walked about the 9 arr., 2 arr. and part of the 10th arr. We looked at the shops selling different items and a book store. We found the most amazing Porte Saint Denis built in 1672 that once served as the gate where the kings of France would pass to enter Paris coming from the Saint-Denis Basilica. The inscription at the top reads LUDOVICO MAGNO, “To Louis the Great”, in gilded bronze. Above the arch’s southern facade is a horizontal bas-relief of sculptor Michel Anguier’s “The Passage of the Rhine”, and on the other side is a depiction of the siege of Maastrict. At the base of the southern walls are sculptural emblems of victory: a woman in despair (representing Holland and the Rhine), a lion with a sword beneath his paw, a triumphant king.

I later read that the Porte Saint-Denis was the inspiration for the Arc de Triomphe which was finished in 1836. It is not as large but is very interesting and beautiful so I wonder why it doesn’t make it into the tour books.

We walked along Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis and saw many cafes, spice shops and mini-markets of different ethnic origins. We stopped into the Department of Cultural Affairs where we saw the memorials to the Jews and combatants during World War II as well as tributes to the fallen from the uprising of 1871. My French is quite limited so if I translate something incorrectly, please forgive. It is a work in progress.

Continuing down the road along Boulevard Saint Denis, we saw the Porte Saint-Martin, constructed in 1874 of marble and limestone. Its inscription in Latin at the southern facade reads “To Louis the Great, for having vanquished the German, Spanish, and Dutch armies: the Dean of the Guild and the Aldermen of Paris.” At the northern facade are bas reliefs of Pierre Legros’ “The Capture of Limbourg”, represented by a woman sitting beside a lion on the left side and Gaspard Marsy’s Louis XIV as Mars carrying the shield of France and pushing back a German eagle to protect a woman and an old man on the right side.

The southern side on the right depicts Louis XIV dressed as Fame, standing in front of an olive tree and receiving keys from a woman. The southern side on the left shows Louis XIV as Hercules.

I love the fact that we ventured away from the usual tourist route and found some different things to see and be among the locals going about their day. There were no people on the street asking for money and no tourists unless they were quietly going about their business.

On our walk back to our hotel, we stopped at a Monoprix to pick up items for a picnic in our room. We choose Serrano ham, camembert, baguette, pate and a bottle of Chateau Cayla, Grand Vin De Bordeaux. We had to stop at the Carrefour to get a cork screw.

This is a very busy area with lots of shops, bistros, and little grocery stores. I like the bustle, the architecture, and the vibe of the city. I am excited to finally be in Paris.
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Old Feb 22nd, 2014, 10:38 AM
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You chose an excellent area to wander around Paris. I once did a report about the entire length of the Faubourg Saint Denis starting from the arch: http://anyportinastorm.proboards.com...rg-denis-75010
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Old Feb 22nd, 2014, 10:40 AM
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Enjoying your report. We'll be in Brussels in a couple of weeks but still don't have a hotel. What is the name of this one ? Thanks.

Bedar, I stayed at the Crowne Plaza near Gare du Nord for about 65€ on a special deal through hotels.com
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Old Feb 22nd, 2014, 10:51 AM
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Euro 500 and you cannot control the room temperature, priceless.
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Old Feb 22nd, 2014, 11:00 AM
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