Sex, chocolate and beer in Bruges (two out of three ain’t bad)

Hi,

A deliberate attempt to entice people here from search engines, with an outrageous claim about one item in the title in Belgium? Us? Surely not. It has been mentioned (by others) that a good time can be had from one or more of the title items, or even better all three. We could not possibly comment, due to not remembering what ‘downstairs’ is for, apart from frequent toilet breaks.

What is probably true is that most people will turn their nose up at a holiday in one of the EU’s founding countries, as it is seen to be ‘boring’. We beg to differ, if you like medieval cities and avoiding an overcrowded airport for a change, then Belgium is ideal for a short break.

If money is an issue to make this trip over a few days, then we are going to suggest something that will probably have us carted off in a straight jacket. We suggest instead of a short break, going for a (very long, admittedly) day trip. Before you reach for the smelling salts to stop the fainting, not using a hotel should give you a saving of roughly £40- £50. That should pay for your lunch and dinner on the day trip, and no breakfast, lunch or dinner bill for missing out day two or three as well. We actually did this in July 2013.  And we managed to visit the Menin Gate at Ypres as an added bonus.

From Guildford, we drove in roughly two hours to Dover Eastern Docks. (Via M25 & M2) You are aiming for the 08.00 departure, so leave at roughly 05.30. At least the M25 traffic will be a lot calmer at this early hour. Ok, most folk will probably be in bed, like most sane people at this time. June/July are the best months for this earlybird day trip, as you will avoid driving in the dark. (yay!). The ferry takes two hours, so plenty of time to have a light breakfast if you wish, and less crowded than the P&O service.

We used DFDS from Dover to Dunkirk, as they had an offer for a 24 hour return for £19 (plus credit or debit card fee of £4 approx)

There are usually offers of some sort available on their website.

Our preferred return is the 21.00 sailing. Fortunately, there is no worrying about headlight converters at this time of year with the late evening sunset. To catch this ferry we would leave Brugge no later than 19.00, remember that check-in closes half an hour before the ship is due to leave. To ease any worries about getting caught out and driving in semi-darkness, here is a list of sunrise/sunset times for Brugge in July;

http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/astronomy.html?n=1249&month=7&year=2011&obj=sun&afl=-11&day=1

With the one hour ahead time difference in France, your arrival in Dunkirk will be at 11am local time. According to the driving directions, the journey to Bruges should take just under an hour, so your arrival in Bruges will be around noon. Just input Dunkirk Port and Marie Popelinplanstenn 4 Brugge 8000 in the viamichelin website below. This is the address for the Etap Hotel Brugge Centrum. You do not want to go to this hotel, just using the address for the rail station car park next door, which is only 3.5 Euros for 24 hours, bargain. Look at the map and directions on the hotels own website. The Bruges tourist office recommends  the free shuttle bus to the city centre from the car park, as shown in the link below. If you use this service,  then the  ‘scribblemaps’ route map should be followed from Markt – numbers 16 to 1,  and then returns to the car park.

http://bezoekers.preview.brugge.be/parking-3

http://www.etaphotel.com/gb/hotel-5046-etap-hotel-brugge-centrum-station/location.shtml

Alternatively, you could do the walking tour recommended by the Brugge tourist office from the car park, with a stop along the way for a canal tour. The map below is numbered in order from number 1. The Car Park is now a multi story, not open air as depicted in the satellite map. (NB. The bolded numbers of the walking guide in this blog correspond to the map numbers)

The route on the following map is in red. Just follow the numbers.

http://www.scribblemaps.com/create/#id=ZxitEhpedu&lat=51.196745396413775&lng=3.22051525393681&z=18&t=road

From the 1. Car Park go out to the main road, and bear left along it. Walk past the 2. Rail Station Square on your left and look for pedestrian crossing just past it. Croos the main road and head towards the canal across a little crossing. Immediately turn right parallel with the canal down a track. This leads to –

3. Minnewater (Lake of Love)

1

Just past this bridge to the left is Minnewater Park, enter it and follow to Arsenaalstraat (Gooooners lol),  where you should have this view of –

4. The Sluice Gate House

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Go through the arch ahead in the above photo and turn right to enter-

5. Begijnhof

A delightfully quiet square, with a nice church on your right.

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Just to the right of this row of houses is an arch leading to a bridge, go over the bridge and bear left, then turn first left into Walplein and on your left…….

6. The Haalve Maan Brewery awaits to slake your thirst;

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http://www.halvemaan.be/index.php?id=5&L=2

If you don’t fancy the De Haalve Maan brewery tour, but still fancy trying the beer, the bar area has a nice courtyard, and also does food too. There are some take-away chip shops or creperies (pancakes) in this square below, near the brewery, a nice place to watch the pony and traps go by as you scoff lunch;

DSC02297Lonely planet has a very useful guide to all the styles of beer, and where to drink them, here;

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/belgium/flanders/bruges/travel-tips-and-articles/40932

The chocolate shops are great too, Mrs G loves the Leonidas chain for their cream filled pralines. The price at any Brugge chocolate shop is based on weight, with a nice box for your not so cheap purchase. Leonidas has a branch in some UK towns and cities if you prefer to save a little money on the currency exchange, although the Belgian original has the better chocs in Mrs G’s humble opinion.

There is also a chocolate museum to indulge in Brugge;

http://www.choco-story.be/ENG/

This website suggests cheaper alternatives to the chocolate shops and specialist beer shops; (scroll down to Bruges souvenirs and shopping)

http://www.traveltips24.com/Bruges.htm

During your walk, if you see a boat tour landing stage and the queue is not too bad, then go for a trip on the canals. Brugge (not Bruges, the Flemmish locals don’t like anyone using the French pronounciation, except the tourist office it seems) from the canal on a trip, is seen from what we call the ‘backyard view’. Just click on the second bullet point ‘Bruges by boat’ at the top.

http://www.brugge.be/internet/en/toerisme/sightseeing/geleidebezoeken.htm

Try to avoid the stages near to Markt and Burg, as these are the most popular, and therefore the longer queues. Don’t forget to wave, either on the the canalside or the boat itself. Everyone waves and smiles, must be on ‘uppers’ then.

DSC02358

While on your stroll try a ‘Frituur’ chip van for your lunch (or the fast food place in Walplein). These chips bear no relation to the poor soggy offerings from UK fast food joints. Fried twice to be crispy and with a helping of mayo or tomato ketchup on top. Some places have a few more sauces on offer. ‘French fries’ will never seem the same again.

There is a newly opened chip museum in Brugge. We are waiting for a similar museum to open in it’s natural home – Greece. (groan)

http://www.frietmuseum.be/en/index.htm

As a sweeter alternative to chips why not try what we would consider a Belgian ‘national dish’, waffles. As explained in this article, waffles are the Belgian equivalent of a British afternoon tea. Eaten with sweet and savoury toppings, to stave off hunger pangs from mid afternoon.

http://www.europeupclose.com/article/when-in-belgium-eat-waffles/

A lunch of chips on the bench in the Walplein photo above (Near the Haalve Maan), and then a couple of hours later a dessert of waffles. Include a beer somewhere as well and you will have tried fairly typical Belgian food and drink. And at a much more reasonable cost than a restaurant. I would wait until you get back on the ferry for dinner, Brugge restaurants know they are in one of Europe’s most popular cities, and as such are expensive. Purchase some cheap chocolate from a supermarket (as mentioned on the europeupclose website), after all you will need plenty of fuel for the walking tour around Brugge. (that’s how we justify buying chocolate to ourselves). Mrs G’s favourite saying is that a balanced diet is a box of chocolates in each hand. Mr G’s version replaces chocolate with a Belgian Trappist beer in each hand. Naughty, but oh so nice in both cases.

Turn left out of Haalve Maan brewery, and cross the road to Stoofstraat and a little alleyway to the right (bottom right corner of this photo – left of ‘Papyrus’ fine silver and antiques shop);

DSC02306

Follow Stoofstraat alley to the end and turn left onto Katelijnestraat. There are quite a few choc shops in this area, compare the prices. Keep going on the main road, until on the left –

7. Memling Museum (Sint-Janshospitaal)

DSC02326

http://bezoekers.preview.brugge.be/en/sint-janshospitaal-saint-johns-hospital

And opposite is;

8. Church of Our Lady Bruges

DSC02335

http://www.onthaalkerk-brugge.be/index.asp?taal=uk

Go around the Church and turn right in to Dijver. You will see a path between the Church and

9. Gruuthuse http://visitbruges.be/location/musea/gruuthusemuseum-gruuthuse-museum

leading to –

10. Gruuthuse Bridge

DSC02340

Either go back the way you came (through the arch in the house) and turn right onto Dijver, Or cross the bridge and turn left into Groeninge and then turn right onto Dijver, you can look in the 11. Arentshuis  Museum on the way if you have time;

http://visitbruges.be/location/musea/arentshuis

Follow Dijver to 12. Rozenhoedkai, one of the best views in the city;

DSC02368

Just after this view turn left into-

13. Huidenvettersplein

A pedestrian walk with some cafes and street artists

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The exit from Huidenvettersplein is to the left of this photo (Taken from the Fishmarket) Go over the bridge and squeeze through the gap in the buildings, and you arrive at the tidy little square of;

14. Burg

DSC02381

http://visitbruges.be/location/in-brugge/burg

As you look from when you enter the Burg go diagonally left to Briedelstraat, leading to the ‘Markt’.  half way along is a tiny alley on the left leading to;

15 Bar De Garre

DSC02382

This place sells a beer that is 11 per cent and very nice it is too!

Stagger back to Breidenstraat, and turn left if your feet will let you. At the end of the street to your right is the main square of Brugge where you catch the bus to/from the station car park ;

16. Grote Markt;

DSC02391

The Belfry – 83 metres tall and only 366 steps to reach the top for a panoramic view. Shown in website below;

http://visitbruges.be/location/musea/belfort-belfry

Avoid eating or drinking here as its tourist central, with prices to make your eyes water.

DSC02390

Now an admission – At this point I would get on the bus back to your car at the station car park. There is only a cathedral and a very ordinary park on the way back from here, with a few shops on the way, if you like that sort of thing.

IF you carry on – to the right of the Belfrey is  Steenstraat. just follow this road until you see on your left;

17. Cathedral ;

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Go in and admire the interior, it’s quite ornate and the crypt is interesting too

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Walk round the cathedral and turn right into Korte Vuldersstraat. keep walking until a left turn into Westmeers. Follow this road to the end and turn right over a canal. Immediately to your left is a paved footpath, this leads to;

18. King Albert Park

I don’t have any photo’s so this will have to do, sorry. From Spotter2 on Wikimedia Commons.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/65/Brugge_-_Concertgebouw_gezien_vanuit_park.jpg

Just stay parallel with the road,  you will come back to the crossing by the train station on your right and past the rail station back to the car park.

We had a couple of hours to kill before catching the ferry, so went to Ypres and the famous Menin Gate ‘last post’ wreath laying service. A very moving event held every day at 8pm, it’s extremely popular, so get there early if you can.

Ypres Cloth Hall

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Park in the square by the Cloth hall and walk to the Menin Gate

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If you have the funds to stay a while and sample the pleasures of Brugge at a more leisurely pace, then the aforementioned Etap Hotel Brugge Centrum Station is our hotel of choice. Clean, good location, reasonably priced and a cheap car park, that will do for us. If you do stay, try and go to Ghent for a day trip too, another fantastic medieval city in Belgium. Ghent has a fraction of the hoards of tourists that invade Brugge every year. But Brugge is quiet in the evenings when the day trippers have gone back to Brussels, etc. Just right for a romantic stroll along the empty canals to view the floodlit buildings. So quiet, that if you have a need for ‘buzzing’ nightlife you will have to go to Brussels or Lille to find it.

To wrap up this unusual Brugge blog. Ignore the buffoons who will tell you to avoid Belgium as it is ‘boring’, they are wrong. This day trip is best done with a day off after it, as it is a very long and tiring day out. The reward for walking around Brugge is to see one of the best medieval cities in Europe, if not the World.

Tips and general stuff you probably already know;

Avoid eating in the main square (Markt in Brugge) or near popular tourist haunts. Even just nipping down a side street off a main square or area will save a few euros. The further away from from the tourist centre, the cheaper the eatery should be. If in doubt ask a local for some recommendations.

When driving in Europe it is compulsory to have your own driving licence, insurance certificate & schedule. There are more items that are a legal requirement to carry. Bear in mind each country has has it’s own traffic laws, which are covered in more detail in these websites;

http://www.rac.co.uk/driving-abroad/belgium/

http://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/overseas/countrybycountry.html?mySelect=%2Fmotoring_advice%2Ftouring_tips%2Fbelgium.pdf&go.x=61&go.y=15

Did you know about Brugge/Bruges?

It has a couple of windmills on the outskirts of the ‘old city’;

http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Europe/Belgium/Provincie_West_Vlaanderen/Brugge-357609/Off_the_Beaten_Path-Brugge-Belgian_Windmills-BR-1.html

And another thing………

If you like museums and galleries don’t visit Brugge on a Monday, many if not all of these places are closed. This is good news for architecture fans who are just interested in the exterior of the buildings, as there will be far fewer people to contend with at the popular attractions. Take care by the canalsides and on the cobble stones in Brugge (especially when wet), there are some who are quite aggressive in trying to jostle their way through the crowds. We have had personal experience of being elbowed and pushed towards a canal bath by these idiots. Funny how they tried to plead their innocence when we told them exactly what we thought of their loutish behavior. I get really fed up with people who are so arrogant that they think they have right of way over everyone. Especially groups who use all the pavement by walking side by side, leaving you no room to go past either side, then look daggers at you when you dare break their line and walk though it. Show some intelligence for a change and consider the needs of others, you selfish ignorant people! Sadly this appalling behaviour is becomming more and more common everywhere.

Thanks for reading,

Mr & Mrs G

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