Tuesday, 29 May
We farewelled the Netherlands today and as per our custom, spent hours trying to find Thrifty car rental and then arguing with them over our car. Firstly, we went to the airport only to find out that their airport office is not at the airport and neither do they have any signs or courtesy phones to tell you otherwise. Once I finally decided to use my international roaming to call them, we discovered they have a shuttle which picked up from a completely different place to what the Tourist Info had told us. When we arrived, they said “we’re short of cars” and couldn’t give us our Jetta, despite knowing we were coming and specifically wanted that car (I had corresponded via email last month to confirm we were getting the VW and not a model swap). First they gave us a minivan which we said was too big, so they offered a Polo which was too small. We said either a Golf or Jetta was the size we had ordered and it should not have been a surprise. Whilst he was standing there saying he had no other VW’s, another customer was given the last Golf!
How hard is it to match up car A with customer A? I mean, you would never order a wedding dress and then arrive to collect it and be told “I’m sorry we’re short on dresses. We do have this other one which is uglier and two sizes too big?” After wasting almost 45 minutes with them they finally gave us an Opel, which is the same size as a Jetta but doesn’t handle nearly as well. What is it with car companies and bad service?
Eventually we hit the open road and were surprised at the lack of windmills in the countryside compared to what we’d anticipated. The Belgium border quickly arrived and we finally came to rest in Brugge 4 hours later. Brugge is an impressive town, similar in size and feel to Avignon (France). The old town is on an island surrounded by a moat and canals but it’s a massive island. There are hundreds of cobblestoned roads and laneways with town squares every couple of blocks. There are 40 chocolate shops and another 40 bakeries and patisseries. After finding a box of 1kg chocolates for €12 I’ve already targeted four of them for tomorrow’s
shopping. We’ve decided to skip Brussels and just get lost in Brugge for the day. Dinner was a quaint affair as well - an intimate restaurant with only 6 tables and €16pp for a 3-course meal. Felt more like someone’s kitchen than a restaurant. Wednesday 30 May
You know you’re in Europe when you can have a €1.10 chocolate éclair for breakfast! We’re staying at a cute family run hotel in the middle of the old town and whilst they did have breakfast included in the rate, I was giddy with delight when we saw the Wednesday markets and in particular, the bakery stalls. Although I didn’t feel hungry I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a chocolate éclair.
Brugge was settled in the 9th
century by Vikings and is designated as a Unesco World Heritage site. It is dominated by the lively Markt Square and it is here where we started our self-guided tour, surrounded by the imposing Town Hall and the Belfry Tower. We followed the little laneways and canals up to a massive church and their beautiful gardens. We made our way to the square where all the horse and carriages stop to
give the horses a rest, and then bought baguettes to eat in one of the many parks. Dwayne taste tested a cherry beer, which was actually quite nice and didn’t taste like beer at all. We proceeded to the Belfry Tower and walked up 726 steep spiral steps to the top for an expansive 360 degree view. Unfortunately the smog lay heavy upon the land so the photos weren’t very good beyond our island.
Dwayne wanted to walk the old walls so after we’d shopped at the obligatory chocolate shops, had some waffles and bought our kilo of handmade chocolates, we set off in search of the old walls. They are nowhere to be found. However we did circumnavigate half the island along the moat before finding a bustling square for dinner. We tried Flemmish Stew (beef stew) and I rounded off the meal with one of the best chocolate mousse’s I have ever had. We really need to get out of Belgium as it’s WWIII on my waistline (which is disappearing as I write).
I love Brugge. It’s a delightful place to explore and I could easily do three nights here without leaving the old town. It’s very busy during the day with all the tourists and cruise liner passengers following their nominated signs, but by evening all the day trippers have left and the town is left to enjoy its own company.
There is something mesmerising about staying in these old places and being enveloped into the brickwork of its history, knowing that someone completely different sat right in this very room 200, 300, 500 years ago. Not only does history now have educational context, but I become a part of its story. It embraces me as a stranger and I leave familiar as a friend.
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