We’re back in London! Sorry about the radio silence – there was no wifi in the apartment in Paris, so I didn’t so much as check my email the whole time we were there. So I’m behind. I haven’t told you about Bruges or Paris yet. I’ll give you Bruges today, and Paris tomorrow. And then hopefully I’ll have some London stuff to tell you. All I can tell you for now is that I really like our house, and that I wish the owner had spent as much time clearing out their stuff and cleaning as I did on mine. Oh well.
Full photo set for this post can be found here.
So, Bruges! Or, more precisely, Brugge, which is the Flemish name, and it’s definitely in the Flemish-speaking part of the country (though from what I’ve seen of advertising, in English, it’s refered to as Bruges). I didn’t know this, really. Truth be told, I didn’t know anything about the city at all, other than that it was pretty. All I knew of Belgium was that it was flat, it invented french fries, it made a lot of beer, and has produced comic books, in French, that kept me entertained for most of my childhood. So I assumed that we’d be leaving the Netherlands to go to a country where I was fluent in the official language, which would make a nice change. I was wrong. We crossed into Belgium on one of the four trains it took to get us to Bruges from Amsterdam without so much as a sign. All of a sudden, there we were, in Belgium. And the signs were all still in Dutch, with no French to be seen. Turns out, while people can speak French there, they really don’t. You have to go to Brussels for that.
Flemish is a dialect of Dutch, with a slightly different accent. I still had my dictionary with me, and of course everybody could speak English, so we got along fine.
After the four-train trip to Bruges, we got off at the station, found the right bus to take and went most of the way to our B&B (the bus driver dropped us off at the wrong stop). Dr. Thingo eventually got us oriented and we finally made it there. It looked like a suburban house, but has evidently been running as a B&B for some time, even getting some awards. It’s a nice place – I recommend it if you’re ever there. The owners were very welcoming.
The one little drawback is that it was 3km from the centre of town, which is where you want to hang out. This made for some tiring days, and a fair amount of whining from the youngest member of our group. We walked it every day, because it was easier to do than to figure out, and wait for, the bus. Which made up a little for the fries and beer.
Bruges, as promised, is beautiful. The centre of town is still mostly original buildings, most dating back to the middle ages, and very well preserved. That, combined with the canals means that everywhere you looked, it was pretty. Postcard-pretty.
We went up in the Belfry (or Belfort, in Flemish), all 366 steps of it (there may have been incentive, in the form of waffles, promised for after). The Belfry was cool – it was built in the 13th century, and underwent many changes in the meantime. The climb was fun, with some stops on the way to look at the bells, and the carillon, which still rings every 15 minutes, driven by a huge copper drum that looks like an enormous version of those wind-up music boxes that play things like Swan Lake with a spinning ballerina at the top.
We took a boat tour, too, which was a nice way to see the city. The driver gave a blazingly fast commentary in FlemishFrenchEnglish. Again, everywhere you looked, it was pretty. And it was a lovely warm day. We visited a chocolate museum, which was surprisingly informative, and came with a demo and tasting at the end. And we went into one of the cathedrals (Notre-Dame – a Gothic cathedral, but much smaller than the other Gothic cathedral of the same name in Paris).
Dr. Thingo and I relayed each other and took a stroll through the Béguinage. They want you to be silent and contemplative when you go in there, so we thought it best to leave the kids out. The site was beautiful, and calm, with an overgrown courtyard in the middle. The Béguinage itself has an interesting history. It’s basically a lay convent – the women lived in a monastic-type community, but didn’t take any vows. They became more popular during the crusades – many men died, and so women came to the Béguinages as a way to live communally and survive. They helped the poor, and got to keep their possessions and property if they had any and return to the world when they wanted to. They are designated as UN heritage sites now.
My favourite part of our trip to Bruges was a bike excursion we took. Dr. Thingo found out about a network of bike trails that run along the canals. So we rented bikes for a day, and set out. Dr. Thingo and Vorlon shared a tandem bike, since they didn’t have individual bikes small enough for Vorlon. Zebula and I got our own. The tandem was weird – it was built like a mountain bike, but with a much shorter back end, clearly designed for a child. We set off, at the recommendation of the bike rental guy, for Sluis, which he said was a nice little town about 17 km away. The ride was lovely, all along the aspen-lined trails. The trails were well-marked, and generally free from cars, though we did see a few (I wonder if they were supposed to be there). We saw people fishing, a neat self-propelled ferry kind of thing, people camping, many cyclists, scooters, racing cyclists, a horse-drawn carriage, farms, cows, sheep. The trail was, of course, very flat. Though at one point we were below the level of the canal (there was a dyke), so obviously there was some kind of grade change, but I didn’t notice it.
Sluis itself, however, was a disappointment. It was packed with tourists, and seemed only to offer stores and bad restaurants. We’d brought lunch with us (bread and meat and cheese from the supermarket). So we basically ate it, and some fries from one of the restaurants, and (surprisingly good) nectarines from one of the fruit stands, and headed back, with a little break at some ruins just outside of town.
The surprise was that Sluis is actually in the Netherlands. There was a tiny sign on one of the trails that said ‘Nederland’ on it, and that’s all the evidence you got that you were crossing a border. I guess it’s not a big deal. I’m just used to the border crossings in Canada, where you have to wait, and passports are stamped, and questions are sternly asked. I can’t imagine these trails just started existing after the EU was founded, so maybe it was never a big deal.
So, disappointing tourist town notwithstanding, the ride was good.
Once again, though, except for fries and beer, the food is nothing special. The beer, however, was very, very good. My favourite was a Grimbergen (warning: super-annoying noisy website), which was blonde and nutty and lovely.
We spent three nights, in total. The owner of the B&B insisted on driving us to the train station, which was very kind. And bade us goodbye with three kisses each (Where I come from, it’s two. Three seems like a lot of kissing!) The train to Paris was interesting. There were two legs, one from Bruges to Brussels, and then from Brussels to Paris. But I’ll talk more about the trip in tomorrow’s (I hope) post about Paris. Stay tuned!