Who doesn’t like surprises? For no particular reason, Jack booked us a secret trip to start shortly after my return to the UK. All he told me was that, over the long Easter weekend, we’d be taking off early Friday morning and getting home late Monday night to go to an undisclosed location and I would need my passport. I didn’t know if we were flying, taking a train, driving, or if it was all a bluff.
On Friday morning, the plan started taking initial shape. We took a train to London and then across to St. Pancras. Jack leading the way…
My best guess was Bruges (Brugge), based on one passing comment that Jack had made months earlier, and I was right! Bruges was not really on my radar previously, but it’s one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe.
Arriving in the central Markt.The Historium museumThe gent
Flemmish stepped-gable roofs everywhere
Not only is Bruges beautiful, but it’s full of treats. Delicious tripels and quadrupels; Flemish stew; chocolate; waffles; frites!
The famous Belfry (made even more famous for In Bruges)
Our first full day, we started at a Saturday market around the corner selling everything from meats and produce to fancy cheeses, knock-off purses, live birds, plants, etc. we didn’t want anything.
From there we went to the Bruges’ concert hall, Concertgebouw Brugge, to book tickets for Mount Kimbie, then around the corner to book ourselves on an afternoon brewery tour. From there, we took it easy – meandering around the old city, visiting windmills and parks and stopping for a decadent lunch.
There are ubiquitous, cheap waffles, but it’s hard to find a resting place to go with them. To have a sit-down waffle, you have to pay a premium. I got the super tourist waffle with chocolate, whipped cream and strawberries.
Building corners are tucked away with religious icons and tiny sculptures. As we made our way through city streets, you encounter many hidden away delights. Nuns ‘tatting’ (a very difficult, elaborate lace) in doorways; canals; figurines.
After lunch, it was time for our brewery tour at Halve Maan (half moon). There used to be 34 breweries within the city walls, but now there’s only one. The tour lasted about an hour and was really good – included was a panoramic view of the city from the rooftop and a pint of Bruges Zot at the end.
Straffe Hendrik quadrupel: our favorite. Best beer from Halve Maan, easy.
After beers, we walked around the city a bit more and found this tucked-away restaurant on the far edge called Ganzespel. Very nice, reasonably priced food. Although the restaurant is very tiny (and will fill up), you aren’t rushed, so essentially have a table for the night once you sit down. We ended up there for hours.
After dinner, we headed back through Bruges at night to the concert hall for Mount Kimbie! It was a terrific show. They were there, coincidentally, as part of More Music festival.
The many canals
Our last afternoon in Belgium, we went back to Brussels early to see a few quick sites. Went to this well preserved Belle Epoque cafe called Le Cirio, where I finally figured out what Waterzooi is (chicken stew). Jack had yet another ‘Americain’ which is raw beef (as if an American would ever). We also had our last Dubbel of the trip and a specialty drink for this place ‘Half en Half’ which is half Spumante, half white wine.
My top recommendations for your visit to Bruges, in no particular order:
1. Groeningemuseum to see the Flemish Primitives. Highlights include Gerard David’s Judgment of Cambyses & Hieronymus Bosch‘s Last Judgment. Both horrifying, but you’ll never forget them!
2. Gran Kaffee de Passage for mussels or Flemish stew or Ganzespel for a slow, authentic, affordable meal.
3. Halve Maan Brewery tour. Good value & excellent beer. Especially Straffe Hendrik!
4. Bierbrasserie Cambrinus for all the beer. Make sure to try some of the trappist beers.
5. Walk around, grab a cone of frites with mayo or a waffle, and people watch. Bruges is mostly full of tourists and there are some good weirdos about!