Venice of the North: Bruges

Brugge3Bruges (Brugge) is a quiet town in Northern Belgium.  It is easily accessed from Brussels, which makes it possible to visit if you are staying in Paris.  Bruges is physically possible in a day trip, but it is well worth an overnight stay or longer.

Getting to Bruges

If you are coming from Paris, you will want to take the Thalys high speed train from Paris Gare du Nord to Brussels Midi, and connect to a train that will take you to Bruges.  You should book your Thalys tickets ahead of time because you can save money.  I booked directly through their website and was able to get a deal for 44 Euros round trip.  You cannot reserve seats on the train from Brussels to Bruges, so it is easiest just to get the tickets at the station.  The journey is just under 2.5 hours and cost me under 75 Euros total.  If I would have gone through Rail Europe, I would have spent over 100 Euros.

*Tip: I received a better deal when I switched the language to Belgium/English.  Be sure to test this out if you are purchasing a ticket.

Sights in Bruges

The town itself is a sight to see.  It offers crow-stepped gables architecture lining the canals.  I highly recommend that you get lost wandering around the town.  You are surrounded by a large canal, so you can’t get too lost as long as you don’t cross over it.  I struggled to ever take a direct route to where I wanted to go, but the quiet backstreets and canals offered a view past the touristy center.  Here were my top five favorite sites:

1. Markt Square-Belfort Tower-City Hall-Although this area is touristy and a bit pricey, it is the main square in Bruges.

2. Burg-This square is the neighbor of the Markt Square.  The variety of architecture provides a unique collage of Renaissance, Baroque, and more.

3. Church of Our LadyThis church holds the only Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime.  The church is undergoing restoration, but your visit will help support their efforts.

4. Begijnhof-Stroll past the peaceful homes and courtyard for nuns and quiet visitors.

5. Canal Cruise-Seeing Bruges from the water is just as important as seeing Venice from the canals.  Float past the major sites as you glide on the water with the swans.

*This short list provides some highlights, but there is much more to see.  For more ideas about sites to visit, check out the Bruges Official Tourism Website.

Eating/Drinking in Bruges

Belgians are known for chocolate, beer, waffles, and fries (along with many other specialties).  Plan on walking around a lot to burn off all these calories.  If you order fries, don’t forget to order it the way they like them: with mayonnaise.

Staying in Bruges

I think my favorite part about Bruges was the bed and breakfast we stayed at.  It was one of the most unique, comforting places I’ve ever been to.  The husband is an architect and the wife is a retired teacher.  Their creative style creates an environment that is welcoming.  If you are looking for an affordable place to stay with lots of charm, stay at B&B Marie Rose Debruyne.  I will share more about my experience with them in a post tomorrow.

*If you like the photos you see here, check out my portfolio.

 

 

 

Rothenburg, Germany

RotenburgRothenburg is a medieval town that is one of the best preserved in Germany.  Escaping the destruction of war, it almost feels like you are visiting an amusement park look alike.

One of the great features of the city is the ramparts.  We hiked up to the top of the wall and made our way around the town.  To repair the damaged wall, people have donated money, and in return they have plaques thanking them for their donations.  Each of us was looking for our hometowns on the wall. Some of us came pretty close.​  Later that day, we heard a story from a local about his personal experience with the wall.  To celebrate his anniversary with his wife, he bought a piece of the wall as a gift.  The problem was that his wife was afraid of heights and didn’t want to go up.  He finally convinced her to go, and she was shocked when she saw their town up there.  Once she read the names above the town, she was even more surprised.

The best shop we stopped in was Anneliese Friese’s gift shop.  She has a fun mixture of Christmas decorations and Rothenburg souvenirs.  The best part about this quaint little store is Anneliese and her son (who told us the story above).  She is a bubbly little grandma full of stories that she can’t wait to share.  She shared her pictures with her and Rick Steves, and talked to us about Rothenburg and whatever else came to mind.

​A group of us decided to explore together.  Our list of sights included the wall, biergarten, crime and punishment museum, a climb to the tower, and the Christmas shops.  We achieved most of the items on our list, but were not completely successful.  The town seemed to close up early due to the big soccer game.  I guess this means we will just have to return.

Before we put on our game faces, we took a local tour in Rothenburg with the Nightwatchman.  With his hellebarde in hand, we walked with about 100 other people down the streets.  His voice immediately hooks you with its fluctuating tone.  We learned about protecting the city and other local history.  We even learned about hell (which is a bar).

As the evening approached, it was time to put on our game faces.  I felt my German blood bubble through as we cheered for Germany in the football game against Italy.  I had purchased a Germany shirt and was wearing my face paint proudly.  Although they lost, I wasn’t too disappointed.  We went to Italy next, so we got to cheer them on.  Yes, I’m one of those fans.

Arnhem Open Air Museum

Arnhem3If the name Arnhem sounds familiar to you, it may not be for the Open Air Museum, but the historical reference.  The Battle of Arnhem was fought in the second world war.  Today’s focus will be on the museum.

The museum provides a glimpse of pre-industrial Dutch life.  You walk through history as you see the typical homes, trades, and gardens of the time and place.  We had an organized lunch of Dutch pancakes.  They offered several flavors of sweet and savory, and I think I can say I’ve had my fill of pancakes for awhile.

Visiting the Open Air Museum is like visiting living history.  It is similar to Williamsburg back home.  I enjoyed watching the animals and walking past the enormous wind mills.  During our visit, a few of us made our way to the brewery before returning back to the bus.  I am not a beer drinker, but of course I had to do the tasting. If you are driving through the area, take a break from the road and dive into the Dutch culture.