08 August, 2013

Weekendje Weg - Bruges (Brugge)

I'd been to Bruges before.  One afternoon, on a Sunday back in 2008.  We had planned to go to Antwerpen, only to find that it was a car-free day and nothing was open, so decided to go on to Bruges for a bit of a look.  And wow!  It was one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe.

So, when the opportunity came up to return this last weekend I jumped at it.  Carly (my first friend in Holland) had booked tickets to see Cats, the musical, in Oostende and someone had cancelled and she had a spare ticket.  I'd never seen Cats, so thought, why not?

We arrived in Bruges and the weather was gorgeous.  Absolutely glorious.  We were coming off the back of some of the hottest days of the year and the cool change was just arriving which was fabulous (although no complaints about the hot weather, it was amazing!).

Our first stop was the square, of course.  We decided to grab dinner there and soak up the atmosphere while doing a bit of people watching.  Until the bill arrived.  96 euros for three mains and two rounds of drinks for the three of us was a bit of a rude shock!  But, we reasoned that this was a one-off and we should just enjoy the perfect weather and gezelligheid.

Saturday was spent cruising the city and the multitude of chocolateries.  There's one thing that Bruges will never run out of, and that's chocolate.  And horse-drawn carriages.  The city was absolutely heaving, but to be honest, I didn't really notice it.  Usually I hate crowds, but it really wasn't a problem.  I think I was just enjoying my break so much that I could have been anywhere!

Canals of Bruges
Look at the people behind me. I didn't even notice they were there!

In the evening we headed over to Oostende to see Cats, and the city was a huge surprise.  I was expecting a bit of a dump of a town to be honest, not the Belgian Benidorm!  High-rise apartments line the beach for miles and the promenade was bustling with people enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.  It was lovely.

And the musical.  What can I say?  Meh.  It didn't excite me.  I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't rave about it and my life isn't richer for having seen it.  I don't get the hype.

What I was excited about though was the famous Bruges Belfry.  On the Saturday I looked at it and thought to myself: I should climb that.  I had a quick look at the entry and saw people lined up to climb and decided then and there that I wouldn't be joining that queue.  Instead I planned to come back as soon as it opened the next day and avoid the masses.

Bruges Belfry
The Belfry.  366 steps to the top.

And I'm so glad that I did!  I was one of the first to the top and the view was spectacular!

The view from the Belfry, Bruges
The view from the Belfry

The absolute best part of getting up early to climb the Belfry was that nobody else had the same idea.  I walked the streets of Bruges from 8 am and the city was practically deserted.  Quiet and still, it gave me a whole other level of appreciation for the place.  Sunday morning is my favourite time to really explore a city, while it's still sleeping.  Especially in summer and with gorgeous weather.

Canals of Bruges, Sunday morning without the crowds.
The same view as above, without the masses!

My top tips for visiting Bruges:
Avoid eating on the main square if you are on a budget.  Yes, the atmosphere is amazing, but the food is overpriced and average at best.  Explore first, you'll find a multitude of lovely restaurants and cafes within a stones throw of the Belfry.

Take a canal cruise.  While the canals are not as extensive as Amsterdam and it's only about a half hour trip, the city of Bruges is Unesco listed and there is some seriously impressive architecture to be seen, including the 100+ metre high cathedral which is made entirely of bricks instead of stone.

Eat chocolate!  It doesn't matter where really.  I know that not all chocolate shops were created equal, but in Belgium you'll have to try very hard to find a bad one!

Try a trappist beer.  There are literally hundreds to choose from, but be careful: some of them are so strong they're likely to blow your socks off!

Take the time to visit Oostende if the weather is good and time allows.  The promenade is well worth a stroll.  The beach is lovely and there's plenty of space.

I love Bruges.  I still want to return in the winter, I think it will be a spectacular cold, Christmas city.  Have you been?  What did you think?

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