Finally, it's here. I have been promising a post about my time in Belgium for longer than is acceptable, but it is here now so please forgive me and expect a lot of photos. . . I spent three days total in Belgium, two in Bruges (you don't pronounce the s) and the final day in Brussels. For the first time, I experienced travel via the Eurostar for the first time which was odd but also nice. It was easier than being in an airport, you still have to go through security and a metal detector but you don't have to dig out your liquids and put them in a plastic bag. I was searched again at the detector, embarrassingly. Apart from that it is just like being on a train, there weren't any plug sockets in the coach we were in, which is a major downfall. It's 2016, please install plug sockets in your carriages. What really surprised me, though, is how quickly we reached Belgium, max three hours. Mind-blowing. We stopped briefly at Lille en route, and to be honest I played Temple Run 2 for the most part, once I had lost signal. The weather report prior to us leaving told us to expect thunder storms and constant rain in Bruges all day, so I wore a jumper and leggings and a pair of heeled boots.
We arrived in Brussels and got on a connecting train to Bruges without stopping to look at the scenery. I should mention that we left our house at 4am in the morning so we were both feeling a little rough around the edges. The scenery more than made up for our early start, if I hadn't switched my phone off I would have taken photos of the gorgeous countryside. It seems really peaceful.
Our hotel, called Hotel Ter Brughe, is beyond beautiful. Our key has those tassels you see on supremely fancy curtains. We had a twin room, very spacious, with a working flatscreen television and a humongous, spotless, bathroom. They have cute little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash, even a dental set and a shaving brush. Breakfast is included and they do a huge buffet spread between 7 and 10am. They have wifi and are right by the canal and only a five minute walk from the Markt. Highly recommend this place, the staff were helpful and there was always someone present at the desk downstairs. There is no chance of you losing your key because the staff hold it for you.
The day of arrival was rough, although we did the requisite cooing over the hotel I realised I hadn't packed my pyjamas. Idiot. My sister wanted to sleep as she is one of those people that cannot function without ten hours of sleep so we rested. I don't do daytime naps I just usually read on my phone, so I spent the downtime trying to come up with a plan for Bruges so we had some idea of where we wanted to go and how to make the most of our time here. Day 1 was a bust, my sister is the most difficult person to rouse from sleep, short of kicking her (she's a grumpy sometimes vicious bear upon waking so I couldn't risk it) there wasn't much I could do. Consequently, and disappointingly, we didn't emerge from our hotel room until the evening. We decided to stroll and find somewhere to eat dinner, we found a cute restaurant with good reviews on Trip Advisor just off the Markt called Den Anand. They make a mouthwatering pasta and were really attentive.
After dinner we walked to Koningin Astridpark, which if you've watched In Bruges, an amazing film starring Colin Farrel set in Bruges (no shit), you know it is a big deal, there is an amazing scene set right here and the gazebo is breathtaking. Gazebos are always lovely, I have never met a gazebo I didn't like. I was surprised by how small the park is but it's a beautiful place, regardless. Although, the weather wasn't sunny it wasn't cold. The sky, however, was overcast hence all the grey pictures.
There were a group of teenage boys listening to music which made me smile as the parks in Belgium are clearly not that different to the parks in England, full of teenagers pissing about. Oh the memories. Nearby, a play area with a set of swings looked very enticing so we swung. I will never be too old to swing on the swings, I love how my hair flies through the air and effortlessly I feel like a child with no worries at all. Holidays are the perfect place to treat your inner child.
Walking around Bruges even with an overcast, frankly dull, sky is a treat. Every few seconds one of us would stop to snap a photo and I have come to the realisation that the iPhone 6 takes much better photos than my iPhone 5S. Below you can see the canal behind the staue and the Church of Our Lady which contains the famous Michelangelo statue of the same name.
The two pictures below depict the most photographed spot in Bruges, according to the internet and my sister at least, and I can see why. In total, I must have taken one hundred photos and four videos of this single spot everytime we walked through. It was just too pretty to not stop and stare for a little while. The area is called Rozenhoedkaai, and no I have no clue how one pronounces that.
First full day in Bruges and it was time to hit the ground running, I left my sister snoozing and headed down to breakfast at 9am. I had turned 22 the day before and honestly felt no different, just as clueless as when I was 21. The spread was impressive, a selection of cereals, continental and classic hot breakfast foods all available as well as cold cuts and every type of jam you could wish for. I opted for more of a traditional breakfast with scrambled eggs, sausages, some streaky bacon, sausages and toast. They served Lipton Tea and I managed to grab a seat by the window and feel very sophisticated , and very British, pouring tea from my teapot for one and planning our route for exploring Bruges. I had a gorgeous view of the canal as I ate a generous amount of food and contemplated how much time each thing on my tentative itinerary would require. There's just so much to do.
We did a lot. I don't want to go in a lot of detail as it might be boring and far too long for you all to read, but a lot of the places we opted to go to were from the film In Bruges. The first place, located the closest to our hotel, was the Burg which is more or less a cavernous square, In the Burg is the Basilica of the Hoeling Bloed a famous church which is purported to have the actual blood of Christ in its possession. We went inside, the stained glass windows in churches are mesmerising so I never pass up the opportunity to visit a beautiful church because in spite of my religious beliefs I can always appreciate art and faith. As well as the Basilica there are so many stunning buildings all over Belgium as well as in the Burg, my favourites are the white buildings with extravagant gold detail.
Following the Basilica, we crossed the canal to see Vis Markt, a fish market. We have all seen fish markets so I will spare you the image of dead fish today. The Bellfry Tower was next on our list and one of the most popular tourist attractions, we paid €8 each and walked up the frighteningly narrow, and exhausting, steps. There are stop off points and rooms you can go into on the way up which tell you more about the tower (again part of a pivotal and heartbreaking scene in the film In Bruges), one room contains one of the biggest brass drums in the world. That's pretty cool. As we got to the top there was a lovely breeze which made me feel less of a sweaty atrocity and more of a classy human. I was a little disappointed because the view of Brussels is hidden by chain link fences, I had to thread my phone through the tiny gaps to take a half decent photo, unfortunately they didn't turn out great.
One of my highlights was the Torture Museum, I know that might not be everyone's cup of tea but it's the perfect mix of horror and history to grab my attention immediately. It was a very educational experience and was quite horrifying to witness all the torture devices that were used not all that long ago (one was used in 1974). Most torture devices were either displayed, such as chastity belts for both men and women which were most common in Victorian times as there was a heavy emphasis on the evil of masturbation, or demonstrated with the use of wax works. This was much better than Madame Tussauds. In addition, they share actual history lessons with you like the chastity belt information but also about executioners across the world and torture legislation. There were so many devices it would be impossible to name them all, the ones that really stuck with me were the Iron Maiden which reminds me of Matilda it's like a coffin with spikes on the inside, the Head Crusher, self explanatory, that you can see below and a metal bull that they would heat up so the victim who would be placed inside the bull would slowly cook inside until they elicited a confession or they died.
A close second to the Torture Museum, was the canal ride we went on. It was in a pretty red boat and although we couldn't make out a single word the commentor was saying about the scenery it was very enjoyable. The day had definitely brightened up and we were in summer clothes enjoying the breeze and stunning scenery. The Torture Museum admission fee was €5 and for the canal ride it was €8.
The canal ride was so nice, and we did see the Church of Our Lady while in the boat. This church is famous because of the statue inside, it's one of the only Michelangelo works outside of Italy so you could say it's kind of a big deal, so much so that they charge you to see it. I feel a bit funny about that I can't deny it, just because it's a church, a place of worship, and it's really little more than a business now but I do understand that to keep everything in top condition they need money.
Groeningemuseum was next on our list. It was €6 to get to this museum, the other well-known museum we wanted to go to was closed for renovations until 2018. We actually passed the construction on the way to this museum. The building for the Goreningemuseum is glass, there are little signs stating 'Museum' as it guides you through adorable gardens until you get to the entrance. We spent about an hour here, there was quite a lot to see. An abundance of oils on canvas that were almost five centuries old and astonishingly well preserved. There were also sketches and rooms dedicated to different art periods through Belgium and Europe including sketches, biro sketches and abstract art. One of my favourite pieces was a drawing of Beethoven, the portrait was based on his death mask which is interesting to me, and a little dark. We turned a corner, almost at the exit to be greeted by a wax woman on the floor in front of some playing cards, She scared the shit out of me.
That was the last touristy thing on our list, so we headed back to the hotel to rest and freshen up and figure out a venue for dinner. My sister really wanted seafood so we booked a table at a swanky restaurant near Vis Markt because they had fish soup which sounded quite appetising. Our table was booked for 8pm so beforehand we decided to walk to Minnewaterpark which is so close to the train station we thought we could leave it for the next day. The park is lovely, a lot busier than the other park, lots of couples and groups of friends and people playing guitar and reading, It was what I imagine a college campus in the US to be like, I am sure I have a very idealised image. The most striking element of the park is the bridge at the very end that connects to a main road. The river/stream beneath is covered in moss creating a thick green film over the water. Beautiful. We got lost on the way but that's part of the fun and it meant I could snap this pretty photo below.
The fish soup was exquisite but the service at this restaurant was terrible. It was a very posh, stuck-up kind of establishment, where everything is just a little bit too much to be honest. The waiters are so buttoned up they look distressed and the Coke bottles are disgustingly tiny. The staff weren't attentive and barely even cracked a smile. It's very British of me to pick up on that but a smile costs nothing.
Hypocritically, we were quite rude as well as while we were dining on their delicious bread and fish soup we were googling another restaurant to figure out a place we could eat a main meal. None of the options at this restaurant were appealing to us, so we did leave after finishing the starter course. We moved on to Au Petit Grande, just as fancy as the restaurant we left but with lovely staff and a more intimate warm vibe. They played great music, I could have sat their all night. Fantastic place.
After this we checked out a jazz bar, that was supposed to be popular to grab a drink before leaving and getting some sleep. We tackle Brussels tomorrow, and we still had to pack up everything.
I didn't like Brussels as much as Bruges, we went to the Atomium which is this weird spherical monstrosity in the middle of nowhere in Brussels which gives you a nice view and has a strange elevator. In addition, there was Mini Europe just next to it, literally a miniature version of popular landmarks in Europe. I would advise you to pass this attraction, complete waste of time. When we first arrived, we walked to a waffle place had some Belgian waffles and then found the Mannekin Pis after sitting and eating properly in the Grand Place. While at the Mannekin Pis, we overheard a tour guide talking about the statue of a small boy peeing and how valuable this attraction was to Brussels.
That was a very long post, if you stuck through it. Thank you so much, I hope it didn't bore the pants off you. To end on a high note, here is a picture of chocolate tits we saw in a window in Bruges.
Thank you so much for reading, don't forget to follow me on Bloglovin'. I will be in Barcelona all of next week so I will be scheduling posts for then so do check back and of course I will be active on my other social media accounts. I shall leave all my links below. Hope you are well. Take care.
What has been your favourite place to visit so far?