Europe 2014 – Bruges (Brugge) – We Climb to the Top and Tour the Canals

Timeline: August 2nd – 4th

This day would be spent seeing as many of Bruges’s typical tourist spots as possible. After a very good and filling breakfast at the Fevery (ham, cheese, yoghurt, cereal, three different types of bread, jams, etc.) we set out for the Markt Square with a brief but fun detour at a large flea market at the edge of the city center. I managed to pick up two CD’s for six euros apiece, a Big Star compilation and Allison Kraus and Union Station Live.

Flea Market

Flea Market

Back at Markt Square I somehow got convinced to climb with Bev the 366 steps to the top of the Bell Tower for a stunning view of the city.   Most of this tower has stood over the Markt since 1300 and it houses a carillon with its 47 bells that are played mechanically via a giant barrel with movable tabs or a manual keyboard.

Belfry

Belfry

Between waiting in line to climb the steps, the narrow and crowded journey to the top that took quite some time, and a period spent viewing the carillon, bells and the city below, we’d spent nearly an hour in the tower.

Brugge from Belfry

A little hungry we stopped at one of the two frites stands that are fixtures in the Markt Square, sharing a small portion of fries with curry ketchup. Thus fortified, we returned to the Burg Square to visit the Basilica of the the Holy Blood, a small two level church housing the drops of Christ’s blood brought back from Jerusalem by a Crusader around 1150. We didn’t get a chance to view this holy relic, but did enjoy the ornate décor of this small gem.

Basilica of the Holy Blood

Basilica of the Holy Blood

We bypassed the City Hall in the interest of time and moved on to ruins in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, standing not far from where the beer wagon had been located the night before. Built in 1992, this new building sits atop ruins dating back to 900, when Viking ships regularly docked here. The hotel was allowed to build at the site only if they preserved the ruins and allowed visitors to view the antiquities.

As the afternoon progressed Joanna and Bev pursued an activity they both enjoy, shopping, until we decided to take one of the many canal tours being offered, an hour or so motoring along while listening to a narrative in French and English.  Canals define Brugge, like so many towns we’d visit; the large Markt Square originally had one that ran right up to it, mooring where the post office stands today. By the afternoon the sun sinks lower in the sky providing a quality of light that is enchanting.

Boat Tour

Boat Tour

Post boat trip we thought we’d try to take in the tour at the De Halve Maan Brewery (Joanna and I visited there in 2007) but arrived missing the last one of the day.  To console us we retreated a block or so and came upon a beer shop with an amazing selection of Belgian beers, which they also served on the patio out back. We took our seats and enjoyed a couple of rounds, warmed by the sun, full of a good day of activities. Using the Steve’s as a guide, we walked over to ‘t Brugs Beertje for dinner, a popular bar with over 300 beers and a light menu. We chose the Cheese Dish: 5 types of Belgian cheese, bread, with a small salad and a Toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Accompanied by a few beers, the total tab was 30.5 Euros.

A Rewarding Day

A Rewarding Day

We returned to the room for a quiet evening. Thinking I’d download Private Ryan for us to watch in the room, I forgot that we were limited to 500mb per day in use. Part way through it stopped and with it came the realization that my Internet use for the day was done on the MacBook Pro.

A busy schedule ahead of us the next day, Monday, we left right after breakfast for a bike ride out to the small town of Damme. Riding down the Damme Canal we passed the historic Schelle Windmill, still working since its inception in 1867 but not open that day for a tour.

Schelle Windmill

Schelle Windmill

Arriving in Damme we rode to the town square, then on to The Church of Our Lady, which was also closed but had lovely grounds surrounding it, perfect for picture taking.

Church of Our Lady Damme

Church of Our Lady Damme

It was a lovely day and the flat ride of about 12 miles round trip wasn’t too taxing, given that Bev hadn’t been on a bike in some time.

 

Bev and Joanna on the Bike Path

Bev and Joanna on the Bike Path

We returned to the room, cleaned up and headed out for a tour at the De Halve Maan Brewery. We arrived just in time to take the next English tour and completed it in about an hour. As mentioned earlier, Joanna and I did this tour in 2007 and thoroughly enjoyed it, as it was more about the history of the building, the brewery, and the people of Brugge than brewing beer.

De Halve Moon

This tour was a little disappointing as there were many people with us, diminishing contact with the guide, and her narrative, while entertaining, was not nearly as informative as was our first time through. We finished the tour and repaired to the pub side of the operation for our free beer (each person gets one) and enjoyed an order of Belgian style meatballs while I finished off a second beer, one of my Brugge favorites, their Straffe Hendrik Tripel Ale (they also have a delicious and stronger Quadrupel}.

De Halve Maan Pub

Our last stop for the day was Brugge’s Church of Our Lady, famous for its altarpiece that enshrines a white marble sculpture of the Madonna and Child created by Michelangelo around 1504. Admission to the Church had been reduced due to a massive renovation project going on, leaving only a small portion of the property open for viewing.

The day over, I returned to the room while Joanna and Bev did a bit more shopping, then at the recommendation of the folks at the Fevery we went to dinner at Café Bistro Terrastje located just around the corner from the hotel on the canal that eventually leads to the Damme Canal. I’d spotted the place walking back to the hotel and was glad that is was the one recommended.

A British couple runs it and we enjoyed a hearty meal that included a Lasagna Bolognese with a nutty flavored cheese melted on top, a rich and creamy chicken pot pie and a few beers to wash them down. Not specifically Belgian cuisine, it was all good and a nice way to end our three very enjoyable days in Brugge.

We packed that night with Amsterdam on the horizon the next day. We talked about the great time we’d had in Brugge and wondered aloud when we’d return again. Given the many pleasurable moments I’ve spent here, it can’t be too soon.

Damme Canal on the Bikes

Damme Canal on the Bikes

Links:

Bell Tower: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belfry_of_Bruges

Basilica of the Holy Blood: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_the_Holy_Blood

‘t Brugs Beertje: http://www.brugsbeertje.be/index_en.htm

Damme: http://www.damme-online.com/gb.htm

Damme Church of Our Lady: http://www.damme-online.com/gb/buildings/churches/OLVchurch.htm

De Halve Maan: http://www.halvemaan.be/

Brugge Church of Our Lady: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_Our_Lady,_Bruges

Café Bistro Terrastje: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g188671-d2458016-Reviews-Bistro_Terrastje-Bruges_West_Flanders_Province.html

 

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