The historic city of Bruges.....

Trip Start Aug 22, 2011
Trip End Sep 29, 2011

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Flag of Belgium  , West Flanders,
Thursday, September 1, 2011

11 Sept. 1 - Thursday

I got up at about 07:00 this mornng and it didn't take long to get my day organized. I had my Packs loaded and ready for the first day on the Bus and at 09:00 the group marched from the Hotel to the location where we'd be meeting the Bus.  It wasn’t hard to spot the distinctive Heidebloem bus when we emerged from one of the corridors  of the small shopping mall and our Driver, Huub, was waiting.  I put my main Pack in the hold and I kept my Day pack and Camera bag with me.

The drive out of Brussels took awhile due to the morning traffic, and eventually we reached the historic city Ghent. We disembarked near the large Saint Bavo Cathedral and then went inside for a short tour.  No photos were allowed unfortunately, but it has a spectacular interior.

Ghent (also spelled as Gent) is a city of about 245,000, located in the East Flanders region of the country.  The city may have been occupied as early as the Stone Age or Iron Age times, and the name reportedly comes from the Celtic word ganda, which means confluence.  At one time, the city was a major site for the wool industry, but this is no longer the case.  Ghent is the third largest seaport in Belgium and also home to the University of Ghent and several related research facilities.  Tourism is also now a major industry in the city.  The city has retained much of it’s medieval archtitecture and some of the best examples are the Saint Bavo Cathedral and the Gravenstein Castle.

When the Church tour was over, we walked to the river for a Canal boat cruise, which Hildbren (our Guide) had arranged.  I sat right at the back of the boat in a corner, as it was a comfortable spot and provided a good vantage point for photos.  The tour lasted about an hour, and towards the end I noticed a lamicoid sign affixed to the boat stating that a tip for the driver was expected.  As no tips are required at any time on Rick Steves tours, I didn’t provide a gratuity but suspect that one was provided by our Guide.  After that we were free for lunch.

I first went to an indoor sandwich shop to use the washroom, but when I went to order lunch I couldn’t find any of the group so I decided on another option.  I walked back towards the Saint Bavo Cathedral and dined at the local McDonald’s.  I don’t care whether people feel that’s acceptable when travelling in Europe, as my reasons were somewhat pragmatic on this occasion.  I didn’t want to get tied down having a lengthy lunch, knowing that I had to be back at the Bus in less than an hour.  I also wanted some time to get photos in the area, so a quick lunch was really the best idea.  McDonald’s is usually somewhat "predictable" so I felt that was the most logical solution under the circumstances.

We arrived in Bruges in late afternoon at Hotel Adornes, which is in a beautiful old building directly next to a canal.  The rooms are very comfortable, with a large Duvet on the bed.  My room has a view of the canal, which was definitely a bonus.  Single rooms are often very small and somewhat “Spartan” in décor, so having a canal view was definitely a treat for me.

We had a short time to get settled, and then headed out for a tour of the Henri Maes brewery.  The Brewery was founded in 1856, although the half moon symbol reportedly originated as early as 1564.  The Brewery produces a number of different types of Beer, and based on the sample at the end of the tour, the quality is excellent.  The Brewery Guide was very animated and enthusiastic, and she made the tour a lot of fun.  She explained the brewing process as we walked through different parts of the facility (most no longer used for production), and at the end of the tour we had our “free” glass of their Beer.  It was a light gold colour, but had a lot of flavor.

After the beer tasting, we went for a group dinner at Tom’s Diner (not a very authentic Belgian name, but the food was great).  I had pre-selected the Carpacio for an appetizer and Meatloaf for the main course.  Both were excellent.  Hilbren, Bob and myself agreed to split the cost of a bottle of wine, which turned out to be two bottles by the time we finished dinner.  Hilbren had suggested a French Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, and it was very smooth and a good choice.  I had two cups of coffee and then walked back to the Hotel.  Huub was sitting across from me, and it was great to have him there as part of the group.

I had planned to update this diary before going to sleep for the night, but sat down to watch TV for a few minutes and end up sleeping until about 02:00 (no doubt due to the wine).  That was it for the night.

11 Sept. 2 - Friday

I had a somewhat interrupted sleep, but woke up with the alarm at 06:45.  I got cleaned up and went down for my first breakfast at Hotel Adornes.  The selection was much the same as in Brussels, but the fruit cocktail appeared to be freshly made (rather than out of a can) and the medium boiled eggs were cooked to perfection.

The group gathered out in front of the Hotel at 09:00 precisely to meet our local Guide, Danielle (she’s married to Christian, who provided our local tour in Brussels).  The weather was sunny and just the right temperature, a beautiful fall Bruges morning and a great time to be walking along the scenic canals.  The tour started with a walk in the neighborhood near the Hotel and proceeded to some of the local historic sites of Bruges, including local Churches and of course visits to the three clichés of Belgium - Lace, Chocolate and Beer.  The canal boat tours were operating even at that early hour, which I thought was a bit surprising.  The last part of our tour covered a historic Hospital, which was used almost exclusively for the poor of Bruges (the rich had their own Doctors on their household staff).  The Hospital was paid for by the City, and provided food and comfort for the sick and injured, so that they wouldn’t die in the streets.

During a tour of one of the Churches (again no photos allowed), I noticed two girls that I had seen outside, and one of them was aiming a Camera at a Michelangelo statue.  I reminded her about the rule, and gather she hadn’t bothered to look at the sign at the entrance.  It turned out that they were from Mexico.

The tour lasted about 3.5 hours, and I quite enjoyed it although by the end I was hungry, thirsty and my back and legs hurt.  I was thankful to have an opportunity to sit down and take a break.  Hildbren and the local Guide wanted to stop for Tea at a small shop next to the Hospital Museum, but they pointed out a small sandwich shop in that area, so I stopped for a Panini and a coffee.

Some aspects of travelling that are impossible to convey in written form are the smells and sounds that I experience while walking around various cities.  For example, the “clip-clop” of the horses hooves as the tour wagons pass by (with the resulting horse “odour”), the gentle breeze blowing off the canals which in some cases contains floral scents, or the smell of fresh baked Baguettes which seems to permeate some parts of the city.

After lunch I was a bit tired and not really sure which direction the Hotel was, so I resorted to my “helper” a Garmin GPS unit.  It worked like a charm and led me right to the front door of the Hotel.  Just after I got up to my room, I heard sirens and looked outside to see an Ambulance pulling up at the house next door.  Shortly after they arrived, another EMS vehicle (a station wagon) arrived and I’m assuming that was an ALS crew.

I decided this would be a good time to determine whether the Netbook would connect to the internet from my room, and fortunately it did so I was able to catch up a bit on my E-mail.  The connection wasn’t perfect, but it worked reasonably well.

The Guide has organized a bicycle trip late this afternoon to the nearby town of Damme, departing at 16:00 so I might give that a try and hope my “bad” knee doesn’t cause me any problems.  That trip will last about two hours, with the riding portion only being half an hour in each direction.  That should be tolerable for my knee.

Those of the group that were taking the bicycle ride met at 16:00 in the small enclosed Courtyard of the Hotel, where the bikes were stored.  I chose one of the newer bikes, as it looked like it was in better riding condition than some of the older models, and would tolerate my weight better.  When we left the Hotel we were on cobblestone streets for the first portion which was a bit of a “bumpy ride”, but when we reached the path to Damme it was a narrow paved trail and was smooth.

The ride took about half an hour as expected, and I didn’t find it overly difficult although I started to get somewhat warmer during the ride. The bike path was beautiful as it followed a small canal for most of the route, complete with floating Lily Pads and Ducks.  Part of the trip also passed gently swaying green and yellow fields of corn and at that part there was also the unmistakable smell of cow manure.  There was a light “headwind” blowing from Damme, which helped with “cooling” during the ride.

When we arrived in Damme, Hilbren chose a small Pub in the main square and we found some outside tables.  Bob (my “buddy” on the tour) and his wife were seated at the same table.  Hilbren ordered “triple” Beers for all of us (my Son Paul had asked if I had tried a Triple yet, so I wanted to be sure to try one).  In order to sample them properly, we ended up having two.  In the small parking lot across from the Pub, there were two “stretch” Limousines parked, one a Hummer and the other was an Audi.  We speculated that there was probably a wedding taking place in the vicinity.

The ride back to Bruges was uneventful, except for one of the ladies who fell off her bike, striking her head.  She seemed to be fine, although there was a bit of a “lump” above her left eye.  After getting back to the Hotel, I dropped my bike gear in the room and then headed out to find some dinner. The Clerk at the Hotel recommended a small neighborhood Pub at the end of the street, De Verloren Hoek, so I decided to try that.  I wasn’t really that hungry so didn’t want anything too filling and “pub grub” sounded about right.

When I arrived at the Pub, all the outside sidewalk tables were full, so I took a few minutes to get a picture of the Windmills above the Pub and then headed inside to sit down.  The Waiter said there would probably be an outside table available soon, and he was right.  Just as he was leading me to a table that was recently vacated, another couple were heading for the same table but he cut them off.  I told the Waiter that if the couple didn’t smoke, they were certainly welcome to share the table, which is what they eventually did.

It turned out that the couple were from Bruges and they started the conversation by trying to guess what nationality I was.  After exhausting every country in the former British empire, they finally guessed Canada.  We had a nice visit over dinner and a couple of Beers, discussing a wide variety of subjects.  I decided on a toasted Ham & Cheese Sandwich with a seasonal salad and of course a Beer.  It was light but very good, and of course I had my usual two cups of coffee after dinner.  The woman ordered Scampi and apologized to me for the heavy garlic odour.  I told her I like Italian food, so the garlic certainly wasn’t a problem.  Just before I was about to leave, two of the tour group came in and sat at a table in the corner.

After dinner I walked back to the Hotel and asked the Clerk if it was too late to do laundry.  He said “no, it’s open 24-hours” so I got my clothes together and went down to the laundry area in the back Courtyard where the bicycles were stored.  There were two ladies from the group there, and they helped me get the machine started. It certainly is a treat having laundry facilities right in the Hotel!   Apparently the wash takes an hour, so I’ll go back to the room and do some computer work while I’m waiting.  I went down later to put the clothes in the Dryer and by the time I finished it was about midnight.
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londonpenguin on

Don't feel defensive about eating at a McD's! Sometimes, you just need something quick and utterly familiar. Plus, most of the McD's I've eaten at in Europe have been far better than the ones at home.

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