May 22 – May 25
From Amsterdam we took the train to Bruges (or Brugge, in Dutch), a little medieval tourist town in western Belgium. It’s another town with lots of canals, and was a major port and trade center many centuries ago. Once most of the canals filled up with silt and were no longer useable for trade, the town was abandoned and everything was left just as it was. Then, after the battle of Waterloo, tourists in the 1800s started coming through the abandoned town on their way to see the battlefields; the well-preserved town was revived as a tourist destination and so it has remained ever since.
The town is pretty much only tourists and everything is geared towards that industry. It’s a very cute little town with an interesting history, but it was full of tourists so we just had to embrace that for a few days. We spent three days in Bruges, which was more than enough. There isn’t a ton to do other than shopping and touristy activities, so we were ready to be out of the small town after two days. But we enjoyed our time there nonetheless!
We were in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, so we were already used to seeing everything in Dutch; but of course, everyone speaks English so we didn’t have any language issues.
Some of our highlights from Bruges:
Waffles! Belgian waffles are completely different from the stroopwafels we were eating in Amsterdam, and are nothing like the “Belgian waffles” we are used to in the States other than their shape. Real Belgian waffles are made from a yeasted dough (instead of an un-yeasted batter) so they are pretty dense but with little crunchy pieces of crystallized sugar. You can get them with anything on top, but we kept it pretty classic with powdered sugar, and strawberries and chocolate.
And the fries! You can just go to a little cart or stand and get a paper tray full of fries with any sauce you want, and then you eat them with a little plastic fork akin to a gelato spoon. They are thick-cut and short, and are fried twice so they are super crispy-crunchy on the outside.
Beer! We drank quite a bit of beer while in Belgium…We kicked off the binge in Bruges where we got to try many different Trappist beers, some Lambics, and lots of other local brews. The beers have a pretty high alcohol content and are very flavorful. We got to check out a very old brewery in Bruges, Brouwerij de Halve Maan which makes the only beer brewed inside the historical center of Bruges (Brugse Zot) and that has a pipeline to deliver the beer to other bars in the city, and a cool bar in the basement of a medieval building. And the beer aisle in the grocery stores rival the wine aisles in French grocery stores.
Chocolate!!! Obviously, Belgium is also known for chocolate so of course we made a point of eating some. 🙂 There is a chocolate museum in town and we spent one morning checking that out. It was somewhat informative, going through the history and process of chocolate making, but the highlight for us was definitely the random Playmobil dioramas depicting different moments in chocolate history (unfortunately, no photos allowed); and also, when we got chocolate. We also learned that Belgian milk chocolate has to be at least 30% cacao, whereas in America milk chocolate only has to be 10% cacao with most brands like Hershey’s coming in at 11% (which we learned from the Theo Chocolate tour in Seattle).
The belfort (belfry): We climbed up the stairs of the belfry and we got a beautiful view of the town. We were also at the top to see (and hear) the bells tolling and it was very cool to see the mechanics of the carillon. The bells can be played two different ways: One is an organ-like set up where someone plays the keys that pull on wires to ring the bells; the other way is like a giant music box cylinder where the pegs pluck a different set of wires to play the bells. We got to see both pretty close up which was really neat! And one day the musician played “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof on the carillon which I liked. 🙂
Our last day in Bruges was also Ascension Day (forty days after Easter, who knew?!), and the town’s Procession of the Holy Blood which draws quite a large crowd from all over the world. One of the basilicas in Bruges has a vial with a piece of cloth which is said to have the blood of Jesus Christ on it. On Ascension Day there is a parade through the city with people dressed in renaissance clothes and they march the vial through the city. We caught just a snippet of the parade before we had to leave town, but we did get to see some people in their renaissance garb. As we were heading out of town, there were hoards of people flooding in for the festivities. Quite the experience!
The town is very cute and well-preserved, it’s very cool to wander around a place that has not been changed very much in many centuries. The whole place feels like a fairytale town, with the stepped roof lines and winding canals, and it’s all lit up at night which definitely adds to the ambience. The weather was sunny and rather warm, which was a welcome change from the chilly weather in Ireland and Amsterdam. The late sunsets made it perfect to wander around the city after dinner, with lovely rosy light and perfect temperatures.
A trip to Bruges is certainly worthwhile! I am glad we got to check it out, and definitely happy we got to enjoy so much delicious beer and treats. Check out more pictures here!
Next up: Brussels! (The city, not the sprouts.)