Bruges is a beautiful little Belgium city very close to the North Sea. I don’t know how else to describe this place other than by saying that it is so overwhelmingly beautiful that it actually feels like you are inside a postcard. The tiny cobblestone streets, the vast bell tower, the Venetian canals that riddle the entire city, and of course, all of the chocolate shops. I heard about Bruges over the years throughout my travels and it is a place that I have always wanted to visit. One fellow traveler that I met in Serbia likened the city to Venice, but said it was even better. That’s when I knew I had to go.
During my trip to South Holland two weeks ago, I jumped on the opportunity to take a roadtrip to Bruges with some lovely people. It was either Bruges or Brussels, but we chose Bruges due to it’s popular reviews in travel books. The whole drive was only about two and a half hours each way from the Southern tip of the Netherlands where we were staying, so it was the perfect day trip. This whole notion of taking day trips to the other side of a different country is mind blowing to me, by the way. In Europe you can literally drive across a whole country in only a few short hours. Sometimes more, sometimes less. In Canada, a drive of three hours would merely take you to the other side of the province, let alone crossing the whole country. So, it was interesting to see so many different cultures and languages in such a small area. The difference of living in a city two hours away from Toronto is nothing when it comes to language or cultural changes. But in Europe, however, the spoken languages may vary from city to city and there may be an entirely different set of customs everywhere you ago.
So, as we were driving along this Dutch highway, all of the Dutch flags adorned on peoples’ lawns started to slowly fade and then change to Belgian flags. We drove past Brussels and through Antwerp until eventually, we were in Bruges. We walked around the city and decided that we were going to make this a day about indulging in all of the treats that Bruges had to offer. Treats being food and beer, obviously.
We started off by heading to the main square where the tall bell tower stands, the Belfort. We walked into a nearby restaurant and sat on a patio and ordered Belgian waffles and Belgian beer straightaway. There is one item cleared from my Bucket list: Eat a Belgian waffle in Belgium, check. After indulging in this sweet breakfast treat, we decided to ascend the 366 steps up to the top of the Belfort. This was probably a good idea considering we just consumed roughly 2,000 calories for breakfast. The view at the top of the Belfort was stunning, but it started to rain so we weren’t able to stay up there long enough to fully enjoy the view. That is one thing about the climate in Belgium, it’s unpredictable. One moment it can be sunny and warm and the next it will be chilly and pouring rain. Luckily, we came prepared for this varying climate so we could still continue our day outdoors.
We then went chocolate shopping, which is perhaps my most beloved memory from that day. Along the street called Breidlstraat, which is a main pedestrian street, there are dozens of chocolate shops. We zigzagged in and out of them and found some favourites – some specializing in truffles, others in souvenir chocolates and some in fondue chocolate. I stumbled upon one of my favourite chocolates in one of the stores which is a chai tea masala chocolate. I fell in love with this chocolate when I lived in France, so, I happily stocked up on them and bought a few truffles for the road. What would a trip to Belgium be if you couldn’t enjoy a little chocolate?
Torture. That’s what it would be.
We then proceeded to find a great little spot to eat mussels and frites, which is a dish that is extremely popular in Bruges. The journey took a little while as we meandered through the winding streets and over little canals. But, this is when we were able to take all of our tourist photos as the weather cleared up a little, which was nice. We then stumbled upon a decently priced restaurant and sat down to share some mussels and frites. None of us were particularly hungry, but we all wanted to eat every local treat we could. So, inevitably our day became about food. Finding food, eating food, comparing food, buying chocolate, drinking beer and then eventually, going on a brewery tour.
The brewery tour was at the De Halve Maan family brewery which is family owned and in the heart of Bruges. We learned about how they make beer in Belgium, which incidentally, is the same way to make beer in Toronto, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. So lesson learned. Any brewery tour you go to anywhere in the world, is likely to be about the same and isn’t worth the extra money to see it again, just go straight to the bar. But, they gave us some free beer on the tour, so that was a bonus and kept me slightly interested. After the tour, we stayed a little longer to drink more beer, just to say we drank Belgian beer in Belgium, of course. Another bucket list item, check.
As much as I wanted to learn about the colourful history of this beautiful city, understand the buildings and their architectural patterns or read about past Kings and Queens who walked the same streets hundreds of years ago, it ended up being a day purely for the enjoyment of food. Everything from chocolate, to mussels, to waffles and beer. My agenda for this day was far too busy to fit in any time for history. Indulging in Bruges’ finest was the goal of the day, and I am happy to say: mission accomplished.