Bruges (spelled Brugge in Dutch) is a small town in northern Belgium featuring medieval buildings and bridges perched among old, romantic canals. It is a clean and picturesque town of grey, orange, and red-brick structures softened with pastels from flowers, awnings, and art. We arrived in the town by train (we simply purchased the “Any Belgian Station” Eurostar ticket and went from London to Brugge in 3 hours, via Brussels) and once inside, the cobblestone sidewalks opened every corner of the medieval city-center to pedestrians (albeit, not their rolling-luggage, as we soon learned!).
After a 25 minute walk through the town, we checked in at the Hotel Jan Brito (or ‘Juan Burrito’ to us idiots from Southern California), a 400 year old hotel wrapped around a quiet courtyard. Our room, a family-style loft, was a comfortably-sized space on the top floor with a second-level built into to the vaulted, old-oak beams. It was wonderful and had everyone immediately disappointed that I budgeted only one afternoon and night in the town (a disappointment that grew after our delicious lunch and Belgian waffle).
Bruges was master-planned for tourists and remains a tourist destination. Upon arrival, we received a map of the city to guide us to the chocolate shops, breweries, restaurants, museums, and of course, boat-rides on the canals latticed across the town. Knowing our time was limited, we made our way to the central Market, famous in all of the travel-planning websites and heavily featured in the the dark, British-comedy In Bruges. From there, we went nuts along with the hoards of tourists, grabbing photos, panoramas, and selfies, galore!
We loved the town and found it absolutely perfect--almost too perfect! You see, with architectural consistency, perfectly placed flower pots, and a friendly community, Bruges couldn’t shake the feeling you would find in a theme park. Is the 500 year old building any less special if it's used to sell cheap merchandise and generic "Bruges"-labeled trinkets? For us, no. Or perhaps yes, but we didn’t care as the scenery was gorgeous and unlike anything we had experienced up to that point.
In addition, the Belgians who worked in the town were the friendliest people. They were eager to assist and cracked jokes with us as we paced among the chocolates and beer steins. It might have been so because we come off as silly Americans; I asked one couple how they knew to address us in English, to which they responded with, "We could tell you're American within seconds!" That same couple would overhear me gripe that I would have to pack souvineer glassware with my dirty socks for safe-keeping and couldn't help but giggle as they chatted with me (they were proud to offer me insulating paper, to spare my new beer glasses the stench of my traveling-feet!). Later, the friendly staff at the Hotel Jan Brito were so accommodating, they had arranged breads, fruits, and cereals for us to eat before departing at 5:00 am the next day, despite the fact that the official hotel breakfast wouldn’t begin for 3 more hours! And all for no additional cost but rather, because “We wouldn’t want you to begin your travel to Paris on an empty stomach”.
Ultimately, we never took advantage of any touristy stuff, such as the canal rides, horse-led carriages, or the chocolate museum. This is in part, due to no time and poor weather, and the red eye/non-stop travel began to catch up to me, evaporating the energy I desperately clung onto as I fought a sore throat. Awestruck, but conscious of the time, we never felt the pull to commit to any one activity. But also, we were enthralled by simply walking around the town, soaking up the environment, and eating Belgium-fries with mayonnaise (unless you're Chuck!). Even when it started to rain that evening, it only served to accentuate the scene, providing the town with a coat that glistened in the strategically-placed building lights.
One of the biggest problems with the way I plan travel is my tendency to over-load the schedule. My philosophy of, “for the cost of getting there, I want to see as much as possible” can backfire so quickly when I finally find somewhere I can relax. Bruges was the chief-most example of this on our trip. Regardless, I think we all loved the time we were able to spend there and I hope to return one day and do the town justice.
Check out some more photos from Bruges below: