After several days in Paris we traveled to Bruges via train. The lovely old-world charm of the city was evident to us upon our arrival at the train station.
After checking into our Airbnb we took a walk through the Begijnhof (Beguinage), which used to be a home for the beguines – lay-women who sort of lived like nuns but did not take formal religious oaths. After a few minutes we ended up on this bridge, where I excitedly waved at tourists cruising along the canal.
Walking a bit further led us to the Minnewater Park and its highlight, the Lake of Love.
The Triennale was ongoing, thus the presence of that triangular structure on the lake. Various installations could be found all over the city at the time.
Know more about Minnewater Park here.
As we walked around and saw bevies of swans, I started to wonder: Why are there so many of them in Bruges?
There are no historical facts that can explain their presence. But there is a legend that tells the story of Maximilian of Austria, who wanted people to pay higher taxes back in the 15th century. Naturally nobody was happy about that and Maximilian, together with his advisor and good friend Sir Peter Lanckhals aka Longneck were captured. Longneck was beheaded and to avenge his death his friend decreed that swans were to be kept in Bruges lakes and canals.
When we got our bearings we decided to go on a bicycle tour. It’s easy to find bikes for rent in the center. Cycling a good way to go around and see the sights and feel like a local. Plus, it’s a form of exercise, which you may need after all the frites and chocolate.
Coming from the Philippines where bicycle paths are virtually non-existent I was a bit afraid to cycle around town, given the presence of tourists and cars. But I soon discovered I had no reason to be afraid because Bruges is such a bicycle-friendly place.
Away from the center we saw some quaint canals and parks. We also saw the city’s old ramparts and gates. It’s more calm in these areas so when you want more peace, head here.
Bruges used to have more windmills in the past, but now only four remain.
If you want to experienced traversing through the canals, a boat cruise is perfect. It’s not a very long one but it gives you a fresh perspective of the city. Our guide was helpful in pointing out notable buildings and establishments. And there’s something about going on the calm waters of narrow canals that’s very relaxing.
The heart of the city is the Markt or Market Square. There are many restaurants in the area but the more important centerpieces you can’t possibly miss are the belfry and the West Flanders court building.
The city can easily be toured by good old-fashioned walking. Even when you don’t know much about where you’re going it’s fine because the center is quite small.
Belgium has a rich history when it comes to comic books. You’ll easily find a store that sells them or any related merchandise.
And now we’ve come to one of the main reasons why I travel: FOOD! You’ll never go hungry in Bruges because there isn’t a shortage of restaurants, bars, shops, and cafes.
Let’s start off with the frite. We usually call deep-fried potato slices “French fries” but there’s actually some intrigue behind the history of the fry. They say that it originated in some areas in Belgium where they had a practice of catching and deep-frying small fish; in winter the fish were replaced with potatoes. The confusion started when American soliders who got introduced to the frite called them “French fries” because they were in a French-speaking area of Belgium. And that’s just one of the stories explaining why the humbly fry’s origin has been misattributed to France.
Eating Belgian fries is unique because of the assortment of sauces that they offer. Ketchup and mayonnaise are not the only options here: there’s curry ketchup, andalouse, and samurai to mention a few.
You’ll never get soggy fries in Belgium; they’re always the right thickness, made fresh and fried twice to get the right texture. They’re crispy on the outside yet soft on the inside.
Of course you can’t come to Belgium without having a piece or two (or more) of their world-famous chocolates. You won’t be able to escape them even if you tried to; there’s an abundance of chocolate shops, even in a small city like Bruges. The problem is always what to get and how many to get.
There’s so many kinds, all sorts of fillings and garnishes that it’s too difficult to choose!
You must not leave Bruges without having a cup of hot chocolate. It’s unlike any other cup you’ve ever had in your life.
The first level of The Old Chocolate house is a shop while the second is a quaint restaurant to eat in.
We were given huge cups of hot milk and our choice of chocolate tablets contained in chocolate cups. There were some complimentary sweets and small chocolate squares for eating. You can’t have too much chocolate!
While the milk was hot, we dropped in the chocolate tablets and whisked until they were all melted.
Our brunch wouldn’t be complete without this waffle topped with powdered sugar, juicy strawberries, and chantilly.
You must have waffles in the country where they originated! Well, we did have waffles everyday in Bruges (and in Brussels too). I’ll tell you more about waffles in my Brussels post.
Another must-try dish in Bruges (and Belgium in general) is the moules frites or mussels with fries. The mussels are cooked (either by steaming them in their own juice or in wine) and served with fries. The succulent mussels will push you to power through a whole casserole of them, which is the usual serving size.
The carbonnade flamande is a Flemish stew made mainly with beef and beer. The meat is tender and the sauce slightly sweet.
Honestly, I am not a beer drinker. But of course, I didn’t want to pass up the chance to try some famous Belgian beers. It’s fascinating how many different kinds and flavors there are!
The 2Be Beer Wall shows you the wide variety of beers Belgium has to offer.
So there you have it, a short tour of Bruges. Our Belgian adventure continued as we moved on to Brussels.