It was 1:30 PM when we arrived in Bruges. Most kitchens in town weren’t even open for lunch and yet we’d already lived a day.
We left Madrid just after dawn, flew three hours and then as soon as we could, hopped on a bus that would take us from Charleroi, an hour south of Brussels to Bruges, a charming historic town in north-west Belgium. Dave was able to sleep for essentially the entire trip. Whenever he hit a chair, he was out cold. I, on the other hand, could barely catch a wink. I was too excited to sleep. I was excited to further explore Belgium, excited to cross a new country off my list (the Netherlands), and excited for almost a full week away from it all; away from worrying about our upcoming move, away from worrying about whether or not we’d get our fianza back and how much, and away from the general worries about the future that everyone in their early-30s has.
It would be a proper vacation. Albeit, a proper vacation on steroids as we had ambitious plans to explore five cities in six days, but a vacation nonetheless.
When the bus dropped us off in Bruges we wasted no time. As I mentioned above, we’d woken up before dawn to catch our flight and in the hopes of sleeping on the plane we’d avoided coffee, and then again in the hopes of sleeping on the bus, we’d decided not to grab one during our wait. In retrospect, these were both horrible ideas. But by mid-afternoon, we could avoid it no more. Before doing anything else, before figuring out where we were or where we had to go, we found coffee. Priorities.
Once satisfactorily caffeinated, we popped into the tourist office, grabbed a map and were on our way.
It was a short but beautiful 20-minute walk to the hotel sandwiched between a main road/mini-motorway, and a luscious park and ravine. Trust me, it was much more picturesque than it sounds. We happily sipped our coffees, enjoyed the unexpected sunshine (the forecast had called for rain, so I was dressed for rain and overheating thanks to those sartorial choices), and marvelled at just how many people were whizzing by us on bikes—the stereotypes are true: EVERYONE was one a bike.
Before we knew it we were at our hotel, which was located just a stone’s throw from the cities core. Even though we were tired, we pushed past the urge to nap and we didn’t stay long. Just a bag drop and a quick refresh, and we were back out on the road (this time sans rain jacket/heat trapper).
We followed the cobblestone streets past high-end boutiques, waffle and chocolate shops, and pubs, until we found ourselves face to face with Bruges most famous attraction: the canal. Our hotel’s concierge had recommended a boat tour so who were we to argue with a local expert.
For a small town, there’s no shortage of options. On almost every corner there was a ticket booth. Given that they all charge the same amount (€8/person) we weren’t picky and bought tickets from the first booth we came across.
Tickets in hand, we walked down a set of wooden stairs and onto a dock no wider than a meter, we took our seats and waited for our boat. Before we even had time to snap a decent selfie, our captain arrived. He was an older gentleman, with bushy grey hair topped with traditional captain’s hat. He walked out onto the dock and started cracking jokes with the seven of us who were waiting. He was a hoot and exactly the type of captain you’d hope for on a river tour in Bruges. He helped us each onto the small, open-topped boat and then we waited.
And waited some more.
Slowly, over the next 20-or-so minutes, more and more people climbed onto the boat. Clearly, there wasn’t a set schedule for the cruise, but they just waited until the boat was full. Not a big deal, it was sunny and we were having a great time watching all the passersby attempting to take selfies by the canal.
Well, we were having a great time until a group of rather large Scandinavian men (Vikings, as they called themselves) boarded the boat, sat all on one side (my side) and caused the boat to tilt at an almost 45˚ angle. It was a bit unnerving to be that close to the water. I couldn’t help but think of how I would protect my purse and its contents in the off chance that we capsized. I spent the next ten minutes awkwardly leaning into the middle of the boat, doing my part to help disperse the weight (it did nothing, but at least I did my part). The boat continued to fill up and with every additional passenger the boat slowly righted itself until we were pretty much level, and I could go back to sitting like a normal person.
With a quick and hilarious introduction, we were off!
Over the next 40 minutes, we cruised up and down the canals getting the opportunity to see the heart and soul of this historic city. From the wooden houses to the old brick hospitals, we were given an up close and personal tour. Our captain’s commentary was the perfect accompaniment; we learned not just the history of the city, but the legends, stories and all of the details that make Bruges such a magical place.
The boat tour was the perfect introduction to the city. I loved every second of it. Seeing this quaint town from this vantage point only made me appreciate it’s beauty, history and charm more.
All too soon, we found ourselves back at the dock. We disembarked the boat and Dave and I continued to tour the city on foot. With each cobblestone street we turned down, we’d encounter something amazing: wooden houses, historic breweries, local artisans, and even groves of unique palm tree (at least, we think they were palm trees. They were unique to say the least).
We wandered through the city until we could wander no more. The forecasted rains were finally setting in, so we sought refuge in a local pub and had our first sips of delicious Belgium beer before making our way back to the hotel. We’d been up since before dawn, so a late night just wasn’t in the cards.
As we walked home, we talked endlessly about the day, what we had seen and how much we both loved Bruges.
It was the perfect place to start our holiday. Bruges had set a wonderful tone for the week ahead.
Read other posts in this series
- Petite Adventures’ Guide to Bruges
- Surviving the Rain and Exploring Ghent
- Petite Adventures’ Guide to Ghent
- Top Ten Reasons to Take a Canal Tour in Bruges & Ghent
- Rain in Rotterdam
- Petite Adventures’ Guide to Rotterdam
- A Day in Amsterdam
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