Before we left on our trip this year, Callum and I were really stuck on where to go for the last leg. We went back and forth between Jordan and Egypt and Turkey and Western Europe and China and who knows where else. We decided on Europe because I still haven’t been to much of it and it is the one continent I really want to see more of and more thoroughly. The winter weather deterred me a bit from making a final decision but Callum said it would be good for me to see more of Europe. I decided to go to Germany and maybe just Prague in the Czech Republic. While my travel guide was busy figuring out where we would go in Germany in December, he did mention that he thought it would be better to see a few more little places rather than spending the majority of our time in just Germany. I was surprised by this suggestion as Cal usually believes in spending a good amount of time in a place so that the need to return is small. But, it being December and everything, there is not as much exploring we can do and the addition of a few more cities was needed to fully flesh out our experience of Europe in winter.
That is why we went to Belgium for 4 days. Callum had been before and knew that I’d really like it in Bruges which was a correct assertion. The entire town of Bruges looks like gingerbread houses from “Hansel and Gretel”. And like our young friends I was tempted to eat all of the treats in sight. There were waffles, and chocolates, and marzipan, and macarons, and waffles on a stick. And sausages and French fries and cheeses. I would need more than 4 days to try everything. We focused on the important things: chocolate, waffles, and beer. Not a great combo I admit but when the sweet tooth was satiated for five minutes, we switched to beer. And after that, felt like we needed a little something sweet. I do use the phrase “we” quite liberally. If any of you know my dear Callum he is not as partial to sweet things or chocolate as I am. This is a sore point for me. It is so tiresome to always have to convince Callum that a balanced diet means chocolate in each hand. A testament I saw posted in Bruges! Proof!
We experienced chillier temperatures in NY, DC and London already but in Bruges it was really suitably cold. So cold and a bit rainy too that I found myself having a hard time caring about what I was seeing, beyond stuffing myself with hazelnut pralines and eggnog liquors and almond truffles. We did do a few walks through the town, normally while on a hunt for lunch or dinner. We shopped in every other shop in the entire city, mostly just to get warm. We went up the belfry which was one of only two “sites” that we saw the other one being a windmill or two. And that is it. Unless you count the “beer wall” as a site. Then we went to three, and we were lucky to get a seat at that cramped establishment. They have spent all of their square footage on the storage and display of 100s of different kinds of beers. The area where you can try said beer is quite petite and already full of shivering tourists trying to get warm. May as well have a drink at the most famous beer store in town! I don’t particularly like beer but I did have a cherry variety which I liked a lot. Callum described it as “lolly-water”. I did notice that several other people were enjoying the same beer as me so I wasn’t alone.
The belfry was interesting because it is very old. It’s been around for centuries and has remained nearly the same in appearance for all this time. We waited in line for quite a while to get tickets to climb the 366 narrow stairs to the top. They only allow a certain amount of people through the cattle gates at a time, which is good because it is pretty tight climbing and not a huge space for snap-happy tourists at the top. It’s as if the builders did not account for the world of travel or something 800 years ago. Geez. When one tourist comes down the steps and through the gates, one more is permitted through. This meant that some families or groups had to wait for more exiting people before their whole group proceeded up the stairs. The general rule when climbing mountains, stairs, etc. is to let the people coming down have right of way. It’s harder to keep your balance on the descent. There were signs attesting to this courtesy which we followed strictly on our own ascent. It was disappointing to observe people barrelling past those trying to come down, and was annoying for us on the tightest corner when an Italian woman was trying to push her way up past me. I told her a thing or two, don’t you worry. I pointed out the (pictoral) signs and politely asked her to step down for the 7 of us trying to make it down. Just trying to improve society one rude person at a time here. It’s a tough gig but someone’s gotta do it.
Now that that’s off my chest, the view was spectacular and completely epic because while we were at the top, the sun was bravely shining through the clouds, and the colours of the city came to life. Callum said that last time he was in Bruges, the tower didn’t have protective wire fencing in front of each of the windows like it did this time. I guess since the 2008 movie “In Bruges” this place is more popular with tourists. We did watch the movie while in Bruges, but I might have fallen asleep in the middle of it. Not really my cup of tea.
Bruges is lovely and it would be interesting to see it in a different season if we ever do go back. The Christmas markets, chocolate shops, quaint buildings and swans were all beautiful to see. If you go, you probably don’t need more than one night and one day to explore the little city but it is worth it. If you were staying in Brussels you could even just do a day trip as it is only an hour or so by train.