Monday, January 6, 2014

In Bruges

When in Bruges, eat waffles.  They are amazing and delicious.  A crisp sugary glaze coats the outside, while the inside is soft and chewy.  I have to imagine it's like a northerner eating a beignet for the first time.  Anyway, waffles are only one of the many things Bruges is known for.  Other things include chocolate, beer, medieval buildings, and old English tourists.

In all seriousness though, I don't think any experience in any city has been as perfect as Bruges was.  That's not to say it's my favorite, or the best, but not one thing went wrong, and on the contrary, everything seemed to go just swimmingly.  We got a 4-star hotel during Christmas which was amazing in and of itself, but we paid next to nothing (relatively speaking), and it was amazing.  Much nicer than the apartment I'm currently writing this from.  The food was amazing.  The people were great.  But more than anything, it just seemed like we were getting the better end of every deal.  And if you've ever done any traveling, you know that's a great feeling.  

Other than having the near perfect travel experience, the town of Bruges was stunning.  It's medieval.  The first existence of human activity in the area dates back to the first century A.D., to protect the Roman territories from pirates along the coast.  It received it's first city charter in the year 1128, and judging by what we experienced the town center hasn't changed much since.  Due to its port and canals, it was at one time considered the "chief commercial city" in the world and the "Venice of the north", but after 1500 it started to fall behind Antwerp in terms of economic output and importance.  By the year 1900 the population had declined by over 75%.

But fear not...during the late 1800's it became one of the world's first tourist destinations, attracting a ton of English and French tourists...which it still does.  When we were there the town was overrun by old English people, but despite the overcrowding of tourists in the streets, we managed to have an incredible time.  More than 2 million people visit every year, most of them old chaps from England.  Everyone spoke perfect English, almost as if it was their first language.  And while Riki speaks fluent French, she was highly advised not to, because apparently the Flemish people do not like French people.  Good to know.

This was our first time away from home for Christmas, and while we were sad about it, Bruges helped.  The weather was absolutely perfect on Christmas day, and the town was bustling.  Like I've said in previous posts, Europe does Christmas right.  Christmas markets, hot chocolate, hot wine, wooden toys and's hard to find a more authentic experience.  It is what you read about in fairy tales.  We met some awesome people, drank some awesome beer, and ate some awesome waffles.  Please, do yourself a favor and book a trip to Bruges.  You won't be disappointed.    

And before our trip I watched In Bruges for the first time.  Great movie, and it does a great job of showing Bruges off.  Watch the trailer below if you haven't seen it already.  You can stream it on Netflix.

St. Salvador's Cathedral dates back to the 12th century, but looked nothing like this and wasn't granted Cathedral status until the 1830's, when the rest of this was constructed.


Medieval skyline.

The Belfry is probably the most recognizable building in Bruges.  The original structure was built in 1240, when Bruges was booming as the center of the Flemish cloth industry.  It burned down in 1280 and was rebuilt but sadly, the city archives housed in the Belfry were lost forever.  The octagonal upper third of the tower was added in the 1480's.  The tower is actually much shorter than it used to be, due to the wooden spire which was twice burned down by lightning.  After the second fire, they wisely chose not to rebuild it.

It's not only amazing that such an imposing building from the 1200's is still standing, but you are freely able to climb to the top.  They just don't build 'em like that anymore.

The waffles which I spoke of...too delicious to describe properly.

Construction on the Basilica of the Holy Blood was built in 1134 as the personal chapel of the Count of Flanders who lived next door.  This place supposedly houses a phial with the blood of Jesus, which was brought to Bruges during the 2nd Crusade in the 12th century.  Like most religious relics, you can see if you pay just a few Euros!  I remain a skeptic.  

The Flemish Christmas tunes put her to sleep.

"Foot long!  Who got the foot long?"

Riki and I were guessing how to make hot wine when Tracy, the lady in the middle of this picture, turned around and chimed in.  She told us the secret to the perfect hot wine recipe, one thing led to another, and before we knew it we were spending the rest of the day with these delightful and self proclaimed crazy ladies.  They took us to some of the best spots in Bruges.  Down crooked back allies we went, heading further and further away from the tourist crowd.  They told us stories of their younger years, their travels, and showed us where to get the best beer in town.  It was absolutely great.  This is what traveling is all about- opening up, meeting complete strangers and having a blast.   

Chocolate and beer, what Belgium is known for.

Seriously, these ladies could not have been any cooler.  

What did you eat on Christmas Eve?  Donner Kebab?  Probably not...

Christmas Mass in Flemish?  Yes.

Yes, I now own two scarves.  

"He's recovering from surgery, normally he walks.  He's not such a baby."

Honestly, Christmas Day could not have been any prettier.

To top Christmas day off, we treated ourselves to an incredible meal at a fancy restaurant.  It was probably the best meal I've had in Europe to date.

Santa's little helper.

So long from Bruges!  We're off to Amsterdam! 

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