Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Bruges, Belgium: 2 nights, September 17-19

Our trip from Amsterdam to Bruges, Belgium would be our first train ride on this trip. I'd read all the detailed rules for our Eurail Pass but until you actually are in the station and on the train, I wasn't quite sure how seamless it would be. For this leg, I had already booked and reserved our seats, which was required. The tickets had actually been sent to us in PV.

We also had to "activate" the Pass by going to the ticket counter with certain information filled in already because ours was only good for 8 days within 2 months.  They had sent me a packet with the ticket and you must fill in the day/mo you are traveling and record with the train number and show from where, to where each time to keep it valid. If you screw up with filling in the wrong date, you loose a day.

There are several different kinds of passes, so you really need to think out your itinerary or how you want to use the pass before buying. We also got a discount because we are seniors and were always traveling together. Eurail Passes are always 1st class. We found out that that means different things depending on the train you are traveling on.

Finding the right train and then figuring out how the tickets read to tell you exactly what car and seat you have required a few questions of others. Once explained, it was easy for the rest of our trip throughout Europe. We were on the infamous train that was the Amsterdam to Paris Norte route. Only a few short weeks before, a man had shot people and it was 3 US men who restrained him. Made national news.

This train offered free wifi, free coffee/tea/juice along with free rolls/croissants. The seats were extremely comfortable and spacious. There was always enough room on the rack above our seats for our small luggage. I can't tell you how many times we saw people struggle with large luggage! It really hurt to watch them. So glad we did it the smart way.

Since Bruges is west of Brussels with no direct trains, it required a change of trains in Brussels to a local train. Again, many stairs to climb up and down. Within 2 hours, we arrived in Bruges, talked to the tourist info agent and found the right bus to take us to the city square. The rain had started to come down pretty hard, so Mike and I quickly took cover to get out our umbrellas and look at our hotel location from there. After a fairly quick walk for a couple of blocks, we arrived at our conveniently located hotel on a quiet side street oozing with charm.

First order of business after checking in was to find lunch. How convenient that a terrific local place was just across the street. It was interesting to see everything written and spoken in Flemish, a true cross between Dutch, German and French. The locals were quite jolly and colorful while drinking a pint to wait out the rain. 

The rain had let up by the time we were finished, so off to the square we went. We decided to hop on the city tour bus van, which would keep us dry while being able to see the sites and get a lay of the land. As Bruges is quite small and quaint, the tour only took an hour.

By then, the sun had come out so we made a quick decision to take advantage of it and walked down to catch a tour boat on the canal. Within 3 hours, we had seen Bruges by land and water. We now were able to make a plan for the next day, our only full day there.

The rest of the day was used to meander through the streets and enjoy the sites and sounds of the town. On one of the squares, we found a local craft beer shop that had the 9th rated beer in the world. Needless to say, Mike had to buy a bottle but it wasn't the rated one. We eventually found our way to dinner on one of the surrounding back streets and people watched.

The following morning, we first walked through the city square bell tower area. An exquisite piece of craftsmanship. My cold that I had had in PV before leaving on our trip had come back with a vengeance in Amsterdam, so I was not up to climbing the 397 steps to the top. Instead, we decided to make our way toward the Picasso exhibit. We didn't get very far when I decided I wanted to enjoy a cup of tea to warm the cockles of my heart.

What happened next was pure heaven!! I spotted a small shop with a sign out front that said “cozy” tearoom. It also happened to be a chocolate shop. Without hesitation, we made our way inside and up the winding narrow stairs to the most “cozy & quaint” tearoom. We found a table by the window so we could watch the comings and goings of people.

Our server brought us a menu that made our mouths water! Before we knew it, we had ordered 2 huge hot chocolates, one dark and one light and an order of Belgium waffle. What we were brought was like no other experience we have ever had nor probably will!! Pictures do no justice to the giddy feeling of making your own hot chocolate out of the ingredients that were brought to us nor can it capture the smells and aroma wafting up from the huge cups. All I can say is simply that it was an epicurean delight!! One of those memorable moments that we will be talking about forever.

A short walk to the old hospital building complex, now converted into exhibit halls and cafes, and we were enjoying the likes of Picasso, Van Gogh, Miro and several other masters of art. A wonderful visual stimulation.

After a quick stop for a latte for me at one of the cafes and Mike exploring more of the complex, we made our through the small narrow streets filled with ancient architecture until we found our way to the Blue Moon brewery. Out of 132 once upon a time, this is only one of 2 breweries remaining in operation. A fun tour through its history with a great view from the roof top and time for a free glass of its product, where we chatted with a delightful English couple.

By then, it was time for a bite to eat. Mike and I decided to stop into a small place called Ellis Gourmet Burgers, named after Ellis Island. Again, totally surprised at how scrumptious the burger was!! I even go so far as to say it was the BEST I've ever had!

After enjoying every succulent morsel of the burger we split between us, we ventured out for desert. Our choice was a Belgium restaurant on a side street with wonderful ambiance and a roaring fireplace. Our shared choice was a chocolate souffle along with my vino tinto and Mike’s craft brew. Again, a total success!!

I highly recommend a visit to this town where you will be enchanted by its charm, architecture, succulent food, great Belgian beer, plethora of chocolate shops, and warm atmosphere!

Alas, though, it was time to move on to Brussels, where we planned to meet up with a family member and a friend we met in PV. Our journey just keeps unfolding.

Hope I'm not boring you with all of this wonderful fun, culture, food, etc. Here's the link to all of our pictures for those that would like to see more.

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