Finally found time to write up our trip to Belgium last week, and it was so good, I’m going to have to break it into three parts. So, with that in mind, here’s part one: Bruges.
The current Mrs Hughes and myself travelled to Bruges, via Virgin Pendolino to London (of course!) and then Eurostar to Brussels, before catching a 40-minute connection to Bruges itself.
We’d never been on Eurostar before and it only took just over two hours to get there. It would have been quicker to fly, yes, but this was travelling to be enjoyed, not endured. It was smooth, the service was good (though not as good as Virgin – of course!) and sitting in a comfortable chair, drinking wine while the countryside raced past was lovely – I recommend it.
The only downside to the journey, was Brussels Midi station. A dark, ominous, subterranean place, made worse by the heavily armed soldiers patrolling constantly. You can understand why they’re there, after the recent attacks, but rather than reassure, they just seemed to give the place the air of a warzone. Clare really didn’t like this place but, hey, we weren’t there long. We were later told by an English guy staying in Brussels that he knew two people who had been robbed in there. We didn’t experience anything like that, it was just a bit shabby and a bit tense.
Bruges is a beautiful medieval town, which has somehow managed to avoid the ravages of both world wars and stay intact. It really is a stunning environment, with cobbled streets, canals, chocolate shops, beautiful old buildings and picturesque bars and restaurants. The only noticeable hazard was the risk of getting run down by a bicycle, they’re everywhere.
We stayed in a gorgeous B&B (De Loft) just 5 – 10 minutes’ walk from the centre. It is part of a converted lace factory and our room was more of mini-suite. The owners were friendly and recommended various places to eat and drink and also pointed out a few to avoid.
We did a few tourist essentials, such as climbing the belfry (361 steps) and going on the canal tour, but we mainly just explored, chilled out and enjoyed ourselves – and drank some of the finest beers I’ve ever tasted!
The Belgians view beer in the same way the French view wine, and in fairness they’re very good at brewing the stuff. Each different beer seemed to have its own glass, which must be a nightmare for most of the bars. One of them, Kwak beer, is served in a glass which can’t stand up on its own and comes with a wooden holder.
The local people encountered were warm and friendly and it was great to talk to other visitors from all over the world, including Spain, Denmark, Australia, USA, Germany, Italy and even Taiwan (via London), everyone was having a great time and all were friendly – I suppose having over a thousand different types of beer can really help international diplomacy, maybe something there for the UN to consider?
There are lots of things we didn’t do and I’d definitely go back again, given the chance, but we had limited time and something else we really wanted to do while we were there – look out for part two.