We were wrecked by the time we got to Bruges and in no mood for anything very much, especially not trying to find our hostel in the cold darkness with no maps. So we opted for a taxi, and it was absolutely the best decision we ever could have made. The taxi driver took us directly to our hostel for very little money and we were so grateful to him that he knew where it was and didn't rip us off. We must have looked too pathetic. So we arrived at Snuffle Backpacker - a quirky little hostel in Bruges. We checked in and received everything we needed, then headed upstairs positively wrecked to dump our bags and find food. Our room was really cool - it was a large room, 14 beds, and had some very funky graffiti on the wall saying SNUFFLE. The bathrooms were a bit odd to get to, and I'm a bit ashamed to say I never actually used them to shower - they were through the bar and outside and up some stairs apparantly. The hostel overall was quite good, except for the location of the showers, and seemed clean enough. We never made it down for breakfast so I've no idea how good it was if it was even provided. Anyway, we met Amy, Sam, Laura and Harley in our hostel room before promptly ditching them to go treat ourselves to some great food - a rather expensive meal of Mexican burritos with a bottle of champagne. It was seriously the best thing we ever could have done and went on to lead to a really fantastic night. The food was fantastic, the bottle of champers went down all too easily and we spent quite awhile in this warm cosy restaurant just chatting about what a horrible transport system Belgium seemed to have. Eventually, when it was time to make a move, we headed back to the hostel to find our newly met roommates downstairs playing some drinking board games. Both Carl and I are fans of board games, and of drinking, so we inserted ourselves in and began playing with them - I even found some more beer I liked, rather cheap cherry beer that went down almost as easily as the champagne. We attracted the attention of a group of boys sitting at the tables next to us, who we promptly invited into our games and learnt that most of these guys spoke about five languages, which is something I could not ever even comprehend! But given they lived in Belgium, they spoke French, Dutch and English straight off the bat as they're the national languages. Then they spoke a few others on top of that. Insane!!! Anyway, after much fooling around with these guys, jokes and laughter and the only name I remembered was Bart coz it was easiest, a few of us ended up leaving the Snuffle Backpackers to see some real Bruges nightlife. We were not out long. There was some fun when we were refused entry to one place because Amy was wearing a hoodie, and had nothing underneath that she could take off the hoodie, so she ended up in Carl's undershirt, changing in the street! It wasn't even a very spectacular place, and unfortunately the night was brought to an end all too soon as Bart and his mates had work the next day. Pikers!
Anyway we decided we'd take Bruges very easily and so woke up late the next morning. We headed out into the beautiful streets of Bruges. It is an absolutely gorgeous town, quiet, quaint - they had music playing out of random speakers in the street! The first thing we did was head for the Belfry in the middle of the main square, the weather was perfect and the Belfry just beautiful. The square was set up with some Christmas stalls and a skating rink with Christmas tree as so much of Europe did at this time of year. Job number one was climbing the Belfry tower to look at the views over Bruges. Absolutely majestic. We were so lucky to have such a clear day and the red rooftops of Bruges were the second time my breath was taken away on this trip. We even managed to be upstairs in the top of the belfry tower for the 11am ringing of the bells - what a wonderfully LOUD time that was, but also very cool to watch all the bells moving in their shafts. Back down on the ground we treated ourselves to some more hot chocolate - amazing hot chocolate - from one of the market stalls and Carl ended up with another chocolate waffle. He was addicted I swear. We then went in search of Michaelangelo's "Madonna and Child" statue in the local Cathedral. We got a bit lost trying to find it, but given the beauty and charm in the streets, we hardly cared. When eventually we found it, right on opening time, we went in and were suprised to learn photos were AOK. So photos were took. Very good to see the only piece of Michaelangelo's work every exported outside of Italy!
Our next order of business was to find the Chapel of the Holy Blood - a church in which a vial of Christ's blood is kept and worshipped on. This was a very surreal experience for two people who are not overly religious. The Church was lovely inside, with some beautiful stained glass windows, and eventually when the Priest came out with the vial and venerated it, a solemness took over the room. One by one, people would go up, touch their hand to the vial and pray, with a donation asked for if you could afford. We took part, and the vial of blood was.... kind of gross actually, just a spatter of blood on something that looked remarkably like bone or rotting flesh.
Feeling very cleansed, the next order of business was, naturally, the Chocolate Museum. This was great fun! We learnt about the history of the Cocoa bean, how chocolate was originally made, moving up into modern chocolate and different brands etc, before entering a room with some chocolate hats and chocolate dogs mounted on pedestals! Then it was time for the chocolate demonstration, how to make chocolate, and of course the obligatory taste-test. Belgian chocolate - to die for. The smell alone was enough to die for. It had been a majorly busy day and definitely time to start heading back, through the main square with the Belfry and the great Chip-off. Basically, as we all know, Belgians invented fries, and at the base of the Belfry, there are two competing stalls selling fries. Which smelled delicious. So we bought some, and some great potato-skin concoction and ate it to warm up at the base of the Belfry. Quite lovely really! Then we headed back to the hostel, passing by an amazing sunset over one of the random canals in this beautiful town.
That night was a bit more restrained than the night before - we stayed in the hostel again, but there were not loads of Belgian boys at the next table; in fact, there was just an old guy at the other table from the Netherlands who ended up preaching to me - totally did not see the direction of the conversation!! We had gone in search of a cook your own dinner, but in the end we ended up at a pancake place right by the hospital which was deifnitely interesting for dinner! The night was still quite good, didn't quite recreate the fun we'd had the night before, but fun nonetheless. Carl and Amy headed out on the town for a bit, but I ended up crashing in bed. For one of the worse nights sleep ever. Once Amy and Carl had got back, and we were all fast asleep, a random bunch of tourists joined our hostel room, turning the lights on in the dead of night then all leaving the room. Some amazing snorers in that group and the loudest bunch of people ever to get ready the next morning. Crazy!
The next day, Carl and I decided we really hadn't sampled enough of the cakes and chocolates that taunted us from the shop windows, so we went in search of a patisserie to gorge ouselves. Which we actually had lots of trouble trying to find! We found one in the end and sat down to cakes and hot chocolates/coffees. The cakes were amazingly rich and actually a bit sickening - I couldn't finish mine despite how wonderful it looked. We spent most of the rest of the day wandering, managed to find a little chocolatier in a random street somewhere where we promptly bought a nice big box of Belgian chocolates to continue our journey with. We weren't far outside the shop when we opened it for our first one with great pomp and ceremony. My first one - a nutty one - YUCK! My second one was a coffee one, also yuck - two things I cannot stand! So I made Carl try most of them for me first lol.
Our last order of business was to pick up our backpacks from the hostel and head to the station so we could explore some of the things closer to that - we left our bags in some lockers after figuring out what train we'd be on. Then we headed for the Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival right by the station to marvel at some of the ice sculptures some talented people had created. Absolutely stunning things!! Carl even went down one of the ice slides. Very cold in there though!
So afterwards we headed for some more hot chocolate in a heated tent. Nice job guys! After that, we still had a little bit of time to kill, so we went in search of the Beer Factory tour, passing by the smallest red light district in the world - a tiny narrow street that was once used for prostitution. We got a bit lost trying to find the beer factory tour, and when we eventually did locate it, we found it wasn't running til much later and there was no way we could have gone to that and still got our train. So we had to pass, opting instead to buy Carl's dad a wonderful beer glass set from a really cool little souvenir shop.
And then it was time to bid a sad farewell to Bruges and head off back to Brussels in order to catch our Eurostar to Paris which, thankfully, we had the tickets for thanks to the first time we'd been at Brussels Midi station! Although we had a bit of time to kill in Brussels, we managed to fill it by getting some food and making friends with a plastic zebra, before boarding our train to the land of love - Paris. We were so excited to be heading that way finally!
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