Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Beautiful Brugge

Welcome to Brugge, Belguim.
The girls were in school for one whole week when they had their first week off for fall break, so we took them to Belgium, Luxembourg and France.  They are clearly spoiled.  Honestly though, one of the reasons we made this two year jump across the pond was so we could explore as much of Europe as we possibly can.  And that seems like a pretty good educational opportunity right there for two young girls. 

You may find it a bit odd that our first major trip in Europe included Belgium and Luxembourg given that these are two of the smallest countries in Europe (come on, be honest, did you even know Luxembourg was a country???).  We chose these two countries for our first trip for a few reasons: a) several people we know highly recommended the beautiful city of Brugge, and boy are we glad we listened to them; b) we like taking trips to off the beaten track types of places and Luxembourg fits that bill pretty well (and it just happens to be right next to Belgium); and last but definitely not least c) Eric wanted to drive this first trip and take the ferry boat across the English Channel, and he may deny this, but in large part to make a beer run to Belgium  (I may also have come back with a bottle or two or six of French wine).

We did a lot over the week we were there and have the pictures to prove it, so instead of trying to jam the entire trip into one post, I’m splitting it up into 3 posts.  Today, we start with the first few days of our trip which basically consisted of a fun ferry ride across the English Channel to France and the beautiful city of Brugge, Belgium. 

Entering the belly of the beast!
We left early Saturday morning to make the 3 ½ hour drive to the town of Dover, England where we would catch the ferry across the English Channel.  Now, we’ve been on several car ferries before and they’ve all sort of been the same.  You drive on deck, park your car, get out, walk around the boat and generally enjoy the ride, so we were expecting the same sort of thing this time.  And then we saw the ferry.  Three words – It was huge!  We actually had to drive the car into the belly of this monster, parking on 1 of the 3 lower levels (the other 2 levels where loaded with semi trucks).  You aren’t allowed to stay in your car during the trip and you wouldn’t want to anyway (no windows on the car deck).  So up the stairs we climbed to the 2 passenger decks above, complete with multiple restaurants, kids play area, outside decks with picnic tables, a private first class area for those willing to pay for it, and lots and lots and lots of places to sit right in front of the huge windows for an amazing view of the English Channel. 
On board the ferry with the white cliffs of Dover behind us.
As the ferry set sail, we went outside and climbed to the upper deck where we had a magnificent view of the famous white cliffs of Dover.  We could also see Dover Castle perched on top the one of the cliffs and we planned to spend a night in Dover at the end of this trip to check it out.  The crossing took about 2 hours and we landed in Dunkirk, France.  Not much to say about the port in Dunkirk.  Very flat, very industrial.  Sorry Dunkirk.  Let’s move on.

I have a new best friend.  It is called Garmin.  Once we disembarked from the boat, having brought no map with us, we had no idea where to go and being in France, the road signs were a bit challenging to read as you can imagine.  Luckily, we had our friend Garmin with us and I really don’t know how we would have navigated through any of this trip without it.  Yes, it took us down a few cow paths here and there (as Eric likes to call the single lane back roads we sometimes found ourselves on, not sure if it really is a road), but you get to see more of the countryside that way, right.  All in all, the Garmin took us right where we needed to go.  We punched in the address for the hotel in Brugge and we were off. 

Our first night in Brugge.
A word about the spelling of Brugge.  Brugge or Bruges – same city.  Brugge is the Flemish spelling and Bruges is the French spelling.  Since the city is located in the Flemish section of Belgium, when you are in the city, it is Brugge, so that is what I’m going to use here.  


Beautiful Brugge – that is the best way to describe it.  The friends who recommended Brugge to us did not lie – it is an amazingly beautiful city.  Like a postcard in any direction you look.  The streets are lined with cobblestones.  The buildings look like they belong in a fairytale.  There’s a canal that winds its way through the heart of the city that you happen upon here and there as you wander the streets.  Your on a quiet street one second and the next, you turn the corner and there is a row of outdoor cafes bustling with people enjoy a Belgium beer at 10:30 in the morning. 

Our hotel was located just a block from the market square, which is the huge square in the middle of the city, complete with a statue in the center, outdoor restaurants lining the sides, horse drawn carriages waiting for their next passengers, locals speeding through the crowds on their bicycles, and beautiful ornate old buildings in every direction you turn.  The streets leading off the market square were lined with shops selling lace, tapestries, clothing, knick-knacks, beer shops where you could pick up individual bottles of over 400 types of Belgium Beer (several of which ended up in the trunk of our car – I wasn’t kidding about the Belgium beer run), and, the crème de la crème – the chocolate shops!  I think every third store was a candy store!  Oh the truffles, the melt in your mouth, make your eyes roll back in your head, truffles.  The chocolates came in all shapes and sizes.  One evening after dinner, we stood in front of not one, not two, but three candy stores all in a row with their windows lit up like Christmas displaying their offerings and Leah says, “Momma, it’s like being in Candyland.” 
Candyland indeed!

Pastries anyone?  Leah's ready for breakfast.
We stayed in Brugge for three nights and basically spent the entire time walking around the city enjoying the sites, the ambiance and eating.  We ate pastries and desserts and chocolates and French fries (did you know the Belgiums actually made fries first, not the French) and of course, Belgium waffles.  We did actually sit down for a few real meals here and there as well.  

It was a fabulous start to our vacation, and because my words really cannot do Brugge justice, I leave you with some pictures to give you a glimpse of just how beautiful this city is.  

Someone turned this dilapidated old building into a beautiful garden.

One of the gatehouses into the city.
Market Square in the center of Brugge.
A word to the wise: When in Brugge, get out of the way of the horse drawn carriages.  They will run you over!

A street performer. 

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