The town of Bruges receives rave reviews as a fabulous tourist town. I expected a lot. I also learned not to trust the weather and always keep your rain jacket with you. Unfortunately it’s a lesson I’ll carry forward. Perhaps it was the rain that diminished my enjoyment of Bruges.
I had already purchased my train ticket and had jotted down the various departures so I could simply show up and pop onto the correct train. The correct train is key. Trains run in and out of the Brussels central station lightening fast. Within minutes the same platform can have three or four different trains come through. You have to watch the board closely.
On the schedule boards it’s also important to note the time between stations. There are many trains going to the same place, some stop frequently, others zip through. Ghent for example can either be a 30 minute ride or an hour. Bruges is a nice hour away from Brussels. Upon arrival also confirm the departures, the fast train back to Brussels was hourly at 3 minutes after the hour.
The tour book gave great advice regarding taking the bus to the center and you save a bit of money purchasing your two single bus tickets (for roundtrip) at the Relay shops inside the station (1.20 euro in advance). I always purchase both tickets upon arrival so I won’t need to worry about finding tickets for later in the day. You board the bus in the front, slide your ticket into the yellow stamping machine and when you’re ready to get off, you leave from the rear doors.
It’s only minutes to the main square. I enjoyed the sights and then began the Rick Steves walking tour. Enjoyable, but rainy and windy to the point that I spent more time pulling my umbrella back together than it was worth. I’ve found that lightweight “travel” umbrellas are simply a waste of money and not really up to the challenge.
The Groening Museum was delightful, but had nearly half of the exhibits closed as they prepared for a special event. Would have been nice to know that prior to purchasing my ticket.
Since I was wet, cranky and a bit out of sorts, I decided to skip ahead on the walking tour and go to the De Halve Maan Brewery for the obligatory tour and beer. Despite arriving at the perfect time to join the tour I opted to head to the dining rom for a meal and a few beers on own. A lovely beer soup, cheese and shrimp croquettes later I was feeling more at charity with the city.
A lovely couple from Indiana joined my table. I shared my cheese and we all shared our travel adventures. They had arrived into London the same day I reached Brussels, however they were departing from Budapest in another several weeks. Their big debate was weather to continue on or stay in Bruges for another day. My travel advice – always stay, you’ll regret it if you don’t.
Rather well fortified, I persevered through the rest of my walking tour then decided it would be better to begin buying my chocolates from some of the more interesting shops. The Chocolate Line offered up some tantalizing flavors. Cinnamon, sake, salted caramel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Earl grey, on and on the selections went.
I’ve enjoyed asking the folks in the shop what their favorites are and choosing those as well. It’s been working quite well and I’ve tried some chocolates I normally wouldn’t have selected. It also helps get your order going as you stare dumbfounded at the massive selection!
So, did Bruges live up to it’s hype? I actually preferred Ghent. Again, perhaps it was the rain but I found myself returning to Brussels earlier than planned. Yet still a bit early for dinner so it was off for a beer to kill some time.
The ambience in the Cirio bar is worth a beer or two. This old beer hall is right next to the Boeurs and across the street from the Marriott. Old scared wooden tables, elaborate faded wallpaper.
After a delightful respite it was time for my “fancy” dinner of the trip. Vincents just off the Rue des Bouchers infamous row of restaurants won the coin toss and it was an evening of beef and French wine.
I chose the prix-fixe menu of mussels prepared in an escargot style, followed by beef with a gorgonzola sauce, a la carte dessert selection (cheese of course) and a lovely half bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This was definitely the more pricey way to order a meal, but I was really looking forward to a nice long leisurely meal.
The “escargot” mussels were delicious, but were the only picture of the meal I took as shortly into my dinner I struck up a conversation with the man who was seated at the next table. He was another solo diner and we had a lovely time discussing travel and cultures (he was from southern Spain).
I concluded my evening with a stroll through the Grand Place before returning to the oasis of the Marriott.