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“If I were you, I’d…” Bruges Edition

June 8, 2009

It just so happens that my aunt’s coworker’s mother’s gardener’s housekeeper’s son-in-law’s uncle’s family is going to Bruges next month. And wouldn’t ya know that it got back to them that I have been to Bruges a time or two and love to share all the little travel tidbits I come across. (that interweb, just connects people left and right, doncha know?)

[note: I have NO idea how it happened but over the last week or two, my friends have been employing (and hilariously combining) the most grating clichés of the Southern & Midwest American dialects. I have to tell you, there is nothing quite like hearing a wannabe Southern drawl of  “y’all come back now” mixed with a Minnesotan “Doncha know” out of the mouth of a Romanian. Truly amazing. Except for the part where I inadvertently use the phrases in my own dialogues. In a wannabe Romanian accent. Y’all should be thankful I don’t post video blogs….]

Anyways. Aside aside… in an effort to help my Aunt’s coworker (I may have exaggerated the connection a bit) plan their trip to Bruges in July, I wrote up a quick email of suggestions regarding how to spend a day in Bruges, sort of a “If I were you, I’d…” kind of thing.

On the off chance such a list would help anyone else with their Bruges trip planning, I thought I would repost the email below:

Disclaimer: With regards to Bruges, I’m afraid I don’t have a ton of groundbreaking insider tips. The highlight of the city is really the city itself – medieval alleys, houses and canals that time forgot. On my previous two trips, we just walked around, took pictures of the city, had a canal ride and enjoyed the local delicacies – waffles,  muscles, frites & beer at the quiet cafes.  That said, the following are the “Must-Sees” that my more ambitious friends (and sometimes I) espouse:

Canal Cruise – Cliche or not, canal cruises are easily my favorite thing to do in Bruges.  They generally last around a half hour and have some narration in English. Depending on your guide (I’ve had good and bad), you can learn some interesting things about the city. Regardless, the scenery compensates for any lack of oratorical skills. You pass under little bridges, see canal houses and get to view the town from angles that just aren’t possible by foot. There are several companies that offer these cruises and I’m not sure one is that different from the other. Rick Steves recommends “Boten Stael – just over the canal from Memling Museum at Katelijnestraat 4” and “Gruuthus – Nieuwstraat 11, opposite Groeninge Museum.”

From Summer 08
From Summer 08

–  Basilica of the Holy Blood – (http://www.sacred-destinations.com/belgium/bruges-basilica-of-holy-blood.htm)  If you are interested in visiting churches, this one is the pride of Bruges. It holds the “relics of the Holy Blood” which, legend has it, are the drops of Jesus’ Holy Blood brought back from Jerusalem after the 2nd crusade. I went inside on my first trip to Bruges and was impressed by the architecture itself – the lower church dates to 12th Century while the upper part is from the 15th century (but restored in the Neo-Gothic style in the 19th century). Definitely worth seeing.

Belfort If you’d like a great view of Bruges, walking up the 366 steps of the bell tower in Market Square is a must. It’s open from 9:30-5pm and costs around 5 Eur/person but the views are unparalleled.

If you are REALLY lucky, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of be a kid’s fair in the Market Square complete with blow up castles and giraffes. I chose to check these things out from ground level. Because that’s a good view too. Not because I was trying to sneak onto the blow up castle. I mean, who does that?

From Summer 08
From Summer 08

(Crazy perspective, huh? Can you imagine being a kid growing up in Bruges? When I was little a big part of me thought that castles were somehow less real than the Disney Princesses that inhabited them… I’m not sure what I would have done if someone had put me on a blow up castle in front of an actual castle. Turrets and all.)

From Summer 08

(Giraffe!)
De Halve maan Brewery Tour – (http://www.halvemaan.be/e/default.htm) For 5.50 Eur, visitors get to sample the home brewed “Brugse Zot” beer (which is very good!), have a fairly interesting 45 minute tour of the brewing process and general information on Belgian beer. One of the unexpected highlights of the tour, for me, was the rooftop view at the end. For “beer lovers” this is a favorite activity. For everyone else, just getting a Brugse Zot at one of the cafes suffices.

brugse zot

brugse zot dad

Other random tips:

–          Chocolate Museum – Although it is advertised throughout town, do NOT do this museum! It is incredibly cheesy, boring and a general waste of money. To make matters worse, the chocolate samples you receive at the end aren’t very good.

Chocolate Line – (http://www.thechocolateline.be/ ) Instead of going to the Chocolate Museum, go to the “Chocolate Line,” a small chocolate store between Church of Our Lady and Market Square at Simon Stevinplein (it’s to the right of the statue of Simon Stevin as you face the statue). When not overrun by tourists (and locals – I was introduced to the place by Belgians), the owner will be happy to tell you about the chocolate making process – in English! Also, the main attraction to this store is the 80 varieties of chocolates on offer. They run the gamut from “Havana”(marinated in rum, cognac and Cuban hanava leaves) to “Cola” (bitter chocolate ganache with cola aroma and almond praline that pops like a “fizz bomb”).  As a bonus, it all tastes pretty amazing.

From Summer 08

–          Bruges by Bike – (http://www.quasimundo.com/html/main.html ) I have never done this myself, but friends recommend the QuasiMundo bike tours. For 24 Eur you receive a 2.5 hour tour of the city, a bike and a drink in a local cafe. While it’s probably a great way to hear interesting stories about the city, the biggest perk of an active tour like this is that you would feel much less guilty about the beer, frites, waffles and chocolate you’ll have while you visit!

Waffles –At many of the stands around town you will find one or two kinds of “Belgian” waffles – “Bruxelles” and “Liege”  – though neither taste quite like what we consider to be a “Belgian” waffle at home. The Bruxelles waffle, light and airy and often dusted with confectioners sugar, is as close as you will come to the Belgian waffles in the US. The real treat, in my opinion, is the Liege waffle. Denser, sweeter and chewier than it’s rival, it has chunks of pearl sugar throughout the batter that caramelize when baked. I recommend any of the street vendors that are making them fresh or Restaurant Hennon, between Market Square and Burg at Breidelstraat 16.

From Belgium – Jan.Feb.2008

(Liege waffle. It tastes even better than it looks.)

FINALLY… Before going, definitely see the movie In Bruges. I’ve watched it so many times (at least 6x in the last year – not because I love the movie that much but because every time someone comes to Belgium or plans a trip to Bruges or thinks about planning a trip to Bruges I somehow find myself watching the film) that I can no longer give an unbiased review. I think I was equal parts apalled and amused upon first viewing. But I can’t be sure.  Anyway. It’s worth it for the scenery. You can fast forward past the questionable parts. Like the midgets. Unless you are like Boyfriend and find that sort of thing hilarious.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Belgium permalink
    June 10, 2009 3:51 am

    Waaaafffles!

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