Day 9 - Brussels to Bruges

Trip Start Aug 01, 2013
Trip End Jan 15, 2014

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Flag of Belgium  , West Flanders,
Saturday, August 10, 2013

This would be a day of Bs. Waking up in Brussels and seeing some more of it before taking the train to Bruges, all of it in Belgium.

We started off by waking up a little bit late again, packing our bags, and checking them with the front desk of our hotel while we ventured out for a bit before taking off for Bruges.

We walked around the Grand Place area and surrounding streets some more, seeing that the main square in particular looked less dramatic but was still a splendorous sight.  We checked out Brussel's "first resident", the Manneken Pis (little peeing man).  It’s basically a little statue of a peeing toddler that is often adorned with various costumes depending on the occasion and season.  This day, it was at its basic nakedness, with no costume.  Around the Manneken Pis, there were shops selling Manneken Pis chocolates, fountains, and other various knick knacks in the form and image of the Manneken Pis.  Luckily, we didn’t have to walk far or pay anything to see that particular sight.

We stopped for the obligatory Belgian waffles, buying some from one of the countless waffle shops in the area.  David got his with just powdered sugar on it, and I got mine covered in chocolate.  The waffles were quite good, but my own was a bit too messy with all of the gooey yummy chocolate.

After finishing the waffles, we visited the St. Nicholas Church.  This was another beautiful cathedral, with notable relics of the Martyrs of Gorkum, a small painting by Rubens of The Virgin and Child,  the Vladimir Icon painted by an artist from Constantinople in 1131, and a shrine for St. Nicholas.

By about 4 PM, we were on a train from Brussels to Bruges (called Brugge by the Flemish speaking people of Belgium).  It was a relatively smooth, hassle free, and short train ride.  There wasn’t much to see of note between Brussels and Bruges – it was pretty much flat, green lands with rivers, canals, and the occasional lake.  There were small towns and villages filled with houses that looked like old cottages out of a painting, or just houses built at least 50 years ago that looked quite weathered.

After arriving at the Bruges train station, we were picked up shortly after that by our AirBnB host, Kurt.  We really appreciated the pick-up and not having to worry about trying to figure out transportation to his place, or waiting for a taxi.  Once at his place, which was a beautiful home with a garden out back just outside Bruges Centrum (the main central area of Bruges), we were treated to the presentation of our room.  Kurt filled us in not only on everything we needed to know about our accomodations, but also all of his favorite restaurants and places to see in Bruges, and even the different stages of a festival that was happening in town that night.  It was the nicest and most well-organized AirBnB experience we had yet witnessed.

We headed out on foot from our place to Bruges Centrum.  After a few blocks, we were at one of the gates of Bruges.  After you walk through the gate, you find yourself in one of the most well-preserved medieval cities in Europe, full of old houses and churches, cobblestone streets and sidewalks, and canals and bridges.  At first, it is quiet and peaceful, and you could imagine yourself walking back into medieval times.  But then you get closer to the central market area and you see more and more tourists.  You pass countless restaurants, chocolate shops, waffle houses, and everything else that we saw around the Grand Place in Brussels.   Central Bruges is just as touristy as central Brussels, but it just feels more authentically old and less like it was touched up or rebuilt Disney-style.   And unlike Brussels, it isn’t limited just to the bustling center square and surrounding streets, but all of old Bruges (inside of its gates) has the cobblestone streets and medieval structures, many of them sitting on shimmering canals, covered in green ivy.  You can enjoy the bustling touristy areas of it as well as wandering around the more peaceful and quiet areas.

Other than just seeing the central market area of old Bruges and walking around quite a bit, we also had a chance to eat some of the best frites (French fries) and chicken wings that we had ever tasted, just from a street food vendor right next to the Belfort.  This was about the cheapest thing you could get to eat around there, and one of the best!  We also stopped in a chocolate/cookie shop and walked out with a bag of various kinds of cookies.

One of the neat things about the timing of our visit to Bruges was that there was a big street festival going on, with different stages or events located at different parts of the city.  In front of the belfry, there was a roller skating rink set up, and also a tent set up for dancing to something like polka music.  In the Burg Square, there was more rock-pop like music being played on a big stage there.  Different buildings had different kinds of dance events going on. We walked to a park and passed the sight of swans resting near a fountain in a pond – it was like something out of a fairytale.  Within a few minutes’ walk from that, there was a swing dance event going on, with some people even getting their hair done up like in 40s-style hairdos.

Already having walked through and seen much of the old city on our first evening, we left the old city and walked out through the gate we came in, retiring back to our place in more modern outer Bruges.   We would have the whole next day to explore Bruges some more and to just relax and enjoy the setting.

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