This morning after a nice breakfast at the Waldorf in Covent Garden, London, I separated our clothing. We are going to store some of our things at the hotel while we travel to Bruges, Belgium for a long weekend. When Boris asked me to come along on this business trip, he suggested I find a new place to visit while we were in Europe that was just a short plane ride away. Since we didn’t have that much time and Eurostar was running some promotions, I decided to pick a place we could go by train and avoid the time hassles of getting to and at the airport.
I have never been to Belgium and Brussels is just two hours by train from London. Boris has been to Brussels, so we are making a transfer there and taking a local train on to Bruges. There are WWI battlefields nearby, so Boris has planned a day out to visit those sites while I take a balloon ride over the city and nearby countryside. We’ll tour together on the other days.
I love the amenities of the Eurostar-seperate departure lounge, on-board wifi, etc. It is a quick two-hour trip to Brussels via the chunnel. The Chunnel is the shortened name for the Channel Tunnel that links the United Kingdom with northern France. Twenty-three miles of the chunnel are underwater. Construction began in 1988 and it opened for train service in 1994. The train travels at about 99 miles per hour. I took my first ride on Eurostar through the chunnel 20 years ago when Rocky was very young and the only route was London to/from Paris.
We had a little trouble in the Brussels station because there was very little signage in English. The train tables I looked up online didn’t match up with what we were seeing. There are frequent trains to Bruges, but we wanted to make sure that we took a direct one. The station workers were not very friendly, but they were helpful.
We took the train to Bruges. Unfortunately, the cab stop is not marked and the waiting area is out in the open. Be prepared to brave the weather. It had been raining so all the cabs were busy in town. We waited about 45 minutes, but finally made it to our hotel after dark.
We are staying at Maison Le Dragon, named for the dragon weathervane on top of the building. It is just outside the heart of the city, a few minutes walk to the main square. There are only a few rooms rented out in this elegant former residence and the owner is very attentive. After settling in our room, we followed his excellent restaurant recommendation and walked down to Bistro Christophe.
There was only an hour window for breakfast the next morning but it was a “wow” experience and worth arranging your schedule around. Multiple courses, fresh breads and cheeses, egg dishes, and lots of beverage options were among the highlights. After breakfast, we walked the few minutes to the main square. The architecture is Flemish and enchanting.
There were lots of people milling around the square. Students and locals offer free group tours of the city for tips. Given my boot, Boris suggested we take the minibus tour. It will get us to places like the windmills that would be a little far for me to walk. It was a full bus, but a small group. Headphones allow you to take the tour in the language of your choice. Both the side windows and the roof are glass so you get some great views. If you are limited on time, have mobility issues, or don’t mind spending a little money to get some history and a great overview, I can recommend this tour.
Bruges has multiple cultural options, including many museums. I love to eat them, but do I know the history of Belgium fries? I can learn all about them at the Friet Museum. Returning to the square, we decided to take a tour of the Historium which is housed right on the Market Square. It is a Disney-like (or want to be) show with animatronics and video set in multiple rooms that you walk through on timed intervals. It is intended to give you a bit of the history of Bruges through the telling of a 1435 love story based on a Jan van Eyck painting. The set-up anticipates large crowds.
Both Boris and I thought it was expensive and a waste of time and money. You learn very little history. Of course we are jaded Americans, raised on Disney-style entertainment. The Historium wants to be something innovative and special, but I think it misses the mark. Best part of the experience was the view from the building balcony. Afterwards we tried the virtual reality booth on the ground floor. That was a little better. My advice is to skip the Historium.
Back on the Market Square, we decided to stop for lunch at one of the sidewalk cafes. I enjoyed wonderful seafood in Bruges, especially the mussels that are one of their specialties. Stick with the chocolate, waffles, fries, and seafood in Bruges and you can’t go wrong.
After lunch we decided to see Bruges from a different perspective. We took the short 30-minute canal tour which leaves from five different locations around the heart of the city. They squeeze as many people as possible into the small boats so you’ll get to know the other guests. It was a bit awkward in the boot, but I made it work.
Bruges’ canals, also referred to as Reie, sit at the site of original city walls. They were named for the River Roya which flowed here around the original fortifications. We took the tour that left from the Nepomucenus Bridge along the Dijver Canal. The exit is just across the bridge and a few yards from our hotel. After the canal tour, we headed back to Maison Le Dragon for a late afternoon nap before dinner.
We had dinner along the Canal at Den Dijver, a restaurant named for the canal it overlooks. We enjoyed a wonderful collection of fresh steamed seafood, appetizers, and dessert. Bruges’ most scenic spot is along this canal just past the street our hotel sits on. After dinner I walked back and took a few photographs before we ended our first full day in Bruges.