When choosing a place to visit, a lot of things can influence you; sun or snow, pyramids or temples, even party holidays. Its not too often that you choose a place simply because you saw it in a movie you liked. But that is exactly how we ended up in Bruges. Who would not want to visit someplace where the best line from the movie was “And I realized, fuck man, maybe that’s what hell is: the entire rest of eternity spent in fuckin Bruges.” So after a very busy holidays, we wanted to sneak a little trip in at the end. Why not this medieval city in Belgium; great beer and chocolate, wonderful architecture.
Bruges is a medieval time capsule. It got big in the 1300’s, then bigger and bigger. With textiles making the folks in Bruges very wealthy. As often happens, it went to their heads and they decided to trap one of their leaders sons, and start numerous rebellions. But the death knoll for the city was the canal silting in, and all trade going elsewhere. So for 400 years or so, the city was dormant, not abandoned, but maintained. Then in the late 1800s tourism began to boom, an intact Medieval city. In Bruges, they take this serious, and they have maintained their gorgeous city for over 100 years for us, the tourist.
It was an hour and half train ride from the airport, then a quick cab ride to the center, or a half hour walk. My sister in law Stephanie recommended a hotel that she had stayed in, right in the center, close to everything. The Martin Relais Hotel was a series of houses, converted over to a hotel. We had our own apartment, with stroller parking and everything. It was above the garage, with its own entrance. There was a huge king size bed, and granite fireplace. To say it was amazing would be an understatement. We loved it.
We arrived at dinnertime, so we headed out into the night to get the little monster food before there was a nuclear explosion. We wandered over canals and down cobblestone streets looking for a restaurant that we never found. We did pass a very nice bar, ‘t Gezelleke, with leaded windows and a warm glow. The owner was a very busy man, running to and fro with a large chalkboard with all the specials on it. Once seated we got a five-minute run down of everything that was on the board, plus some. It smelled delicious so I ordered the rabbit. I could not understand what he was saying but I did get the rabbit bit and Yvonne got a huge bowl of chicken soup. Mine turned out to be a Flemish stew of rabbit, creamy as hell mash potatoes, and yes, a very strong beer. We were all in heaven. After a few beers, we headed back to get Sky to sleep. We were completely thrilled with the first nights food.
Traveling with toddlers can be so much fun, but sleep is not something that comes naturally to our daughter anyway. So most of the night is spent trying to get her to sleep, and watching peppa pig. What ever keeps her happy at 3 in the morning I say?
Everything centers around the main square in Bruges, called Markt. It is surrounded by New-Gothic architecture with the grandest of them all being the Belfry of Bruges. I was chuckling to myself the whole time, again, thinking about the movie. Colin Farrel is the biggest asshole, and he tells a group of over weight Americans not to climb it. They get all flustered, and there is a bit of melee. I won’t say too much, but I could not stop laughing about it.
The Belfry was initially built in 1240, though the gothic styling that it now sports was finished in 1822. The line was long, we waited about 45 minutes to start climbing 337 steps to the top, and this is the slow season. They let 70 people up at a time, so when some one comes out, someone goes up. The stairs are a stone spiral, and then down size to a very small wooden spiral with a rope to hold on to. There are numerous platforms going up, and you can see all the working s of the bells, the giant mechanism that controls them, and even the organ room where the organist can play them. Everything about this is really cool, and fascinating. Then you get up to the top, and look out a wire mesh at all of Bruges, from all directions. One review I read said that if it was rainy, don’t bother. But it was a wet day and we still enjoyed it. Sure we could not see the sea, but just seeing an aerial view of the historic town was amazing, with all the tile and slate and tile roofs.
The rain really kicked in at this point, and after a realization that our exhausted daughter had no intention to get to sleep, so I bundled up and wandered the streets in the rain with her in the buggy. Minutes in to the storm, she was sleeping like a baby, I only had to keep trudging along. So we wandered here and there, I laughed at a boatload of tourists doing the canal tour. They looked like a Spartan Shield wall of umbrellas. The boat was so loaded that you had to wonder if they were about to become a submarine. I am sure they really enjoyed the tour.
In the end, I ducked into a dark doorway under some amazing stonework, in to a cellar like complex. My Dad would be so happy, I stumbled into a church that has a vial of the blood of Jesus, no kidding. People come from all over to see this holy object. Well, it kept the rain off me that is for sure, but I really don’t think it’s the real stuff.
Everything gets booked fast, so make reservations in this town. Wayne Kraus’s recommended a spot called Cambrinus Bar. We were lucky there was room for all three of us at the bar and no silly laws saying kids could not eat at the bar like in America. There were 400 beers to choose from but more importantly, the ice cream came in a little plastic cow that Skylar got to keep. That’s what I call a Win/Win. She still carries the cow around.
We ended the day by having a beer at the bar at the Historeum, which is really not one. It’s a Disney like them park of virtual reality, where you can step back in time. We chose to stay in the present and watch all the horse drawn carriages spin around the square while enjoying another strong beer, this time a Dubbel from a gorgeous neo-gothic balcony in the same building.