Back to Belgium!

With only two weeks since our last trip to Brugge, we headed back to Belgium, excited to return. As I said before, we loved Brugge, so we were thrilled to return.

(Let me put a slight disclaimer in here about the spelling of the city itself. The French and English spell it Bruges, the Flemish spell it Brugge. While walking around the city itself, I noticed it mostly spelled in the latter way, so that’s the spelling I’m using. Sam and I think it is so strange that cities have multiple names in different languages. Bizarre. Anyway, that’s why I’m spelling it Brugge.)

Sam and I spent a few nights at the lovely and modern Antares Bed and Breakfast. Though it was modern and minimalist, it was cozy and the owners were so welcoming and accommodating. We have really enjoyed staying bed and breakfasts or renting apartments in the cities we visit; it allows us to see a more residential side of town and meet the locals. One of my favorite parts of staying at Antares was the breakfast. Unlike any other breakfast I’ve had, it was a feast of warm chewy breads, fresh juice and fruit, local meats and cheeses, coffee, spreads and pastries.

Quite the feast!

Quite the feast!

There were so many windows in the dining area that it felt like we were sitting outside. I bet it is absolutely beautiful in the summer!

There were so many windows in the dining area that it felt like we were sitting outside. I bet it is absolutely beautiful in the summer!

On this trip to Belgium, we had two goals:

1) Climb the 366 steps up the “Belfry of Bruges”.  Winding, narrow and cold, the steps were a tough task but the view was a worthwhile reward.

Though it was rainy and windy, the view was still incredible.

Though it was rainy and windy, the view was still incredible.

The market square below.

The market square below. Bart, the owner of Antares, told us that Brugge has incredibly strict building codes that even dictate what color roofing tiles you can use. The uniformity is clear from this angle!

I was so impressed by the intricate mechanisms running the bells.

I was so impressed by the intricate mechanisms running the bells.

By happy accident, we were at the top of the tower during the noon bells! It startled me at first, but then I composed myself and recorded some video. I think the video of the view of the tower captures the 360 degree view much better than my pictures did.

Our second goal was the perfect rest-stop after our chilly belfry experience. We headed next to…

2) De Garre.  De Garre is not your typical European pub or bar. If you can find it – an inconspicuous alley leads to its modest but welcoming doorway – you’ll be greeted with classical music, the chatter of locals and travelers, and hopefully one empty table to make your own. We heard of this place from our friend Dave, who we went to Brugge with a few weeks ago. He had mentioned De Garre several times, repeating how much he was looking forward to having their famous house beer, served with the house cheese, as this was the only place to get it. He was devastated to turn the corner of the alley and find the heavy door closed, with a note confirming that De Garre was closed during the time we were there. Unfortunately for Dave (sorry!) but fortunately for us, it was open when we went back this time! We understood why he was so dejected to see that note… We loved De Garre.

The long-awaited De Garre beer and cheese.

The long-awaited De Garre beer and cheese.

The downstairs portion of De Garre and the bar offerings.

The downstairs portion of De Garre and the bar offerings.

We settled in, enjoyed our beer and cheese, and quickly warmed up. We felt like we were a part of a Brugge secret. Locals at nearby tables read their Flemish papers, nodded to the server for another coffee or beer, and waved over friends as they entered. Other equally lucky tourists sat at their tables soaking it all in, as we did. After visiting Germany, on our drive back through Belgium to the ferry port, we had a few hours to spare so we stopped by Brugge again. One of our first stops was to De Garre. I was pleased to find the same group of locals sitting at the same table, surrounded by empty coffee mugs and De Garre glasses, an extra plate of biscuits being shared between them. It’s that look into the routines of a city’s people that I hope I can find on every trip.

We spent the rest of our trip walking around the city, trying to stay dry as it down-poured. I came down with a terrible cold – poor Sam had to listen to me sniffle and blow my nose incessantly – but still enjoyed the crisp, cool air of the city.

One of the many canals reflecting one of Brugge's many churches.

One of the many canals reflecting one of Brugge’s many churches.

There are bicycles all over Europe!

There are bicycles all over Europe!

This antique and furniture store knows how to get customers... have this precious face greet customers at the door!

This antique and furniture store knows how to get customers… have this precious face greet customers at the door!

One of Brugge's windmills (and the rain). This is when we were at our coldest and wettest, so we didn't stay long!

One of Brugge’s windmills (and the rain). This is when we were at our coldest and wettest, so we didn’t stay long!

Feeling well acquainted with Brugge, it was time to head to Germany, but not before spending the day in the nearby city of Ghent.

Ghent, Belgium

Bart, the owner of Antares, mentioned that there’s quite a bit of competition between Brugge and Ghent when it comes to the tourist industry. He was clearly in love with his town, beaming every time he mentioned any of the city’s many desirable qualities, but a wry smile crossed his face when we said we were heading to Ghent. “I’ll let you decide for yourself,” was his only remark.  Well, I decided very quickly that Brugge wins that competition. Ghent is a beautiful city, far more towering and majestic than Brugge. In scale, it’s buildings and churches seem to tower over that of Brugge, but in an almost claustrophobic way.  Ghent and Brugge alike have wide open market squares, rivers and bridges, but while Brugge has smaller buildings and narrower streets, the multi-story buildings of Ghent hover over the sidewalks and block your view. There were several areas of Ghent that were absolutely beautiful, but as a whole it lacked the charm I found in Brugge. For all of it’s views and history, it still had the busy-large-city-crowded-feeling that I typically don’t enjoy. It was certainly a nice place to spend an afternoon though!

The market square

The market square

If Ghent and Brugge are to compete over anything, it should be for the title of "Venice of the North." Ghent wins that competition in my eyes...

If Ghent and Brugge are to compete over anything, it should be for the title of “Venice of the North.” Ghent wins that competition in my eyes…

Canal boats for a different view of the city. Maybe if it were warmer!

Canal boats for a different view of the city. Maybe if it were warmer!

These canals dwarfed those in the city center of Brugge.

These canals dwarfed those in the city center of Brugge.

Sam recognized this place from his college backpacking trip across Europe. There aren't many places that you can point to and say, "I think Taylor and I staged a sword fight there."

Sam recognized this place from his college backpacking trip across Europe. There aren’t many places that you can point to and say, “I think Taylor and I staged a sword fight there.”

Like I said, it was a great place to spend an afternoon. But, then again, I had great company. :)

Like I said, it was a great place to spend an afternoon. But, then again, I had great company. 🙂

From there we headed to Germany! I’ll hopefully post about that sometime later this weekend. For now, it’s time to get my lazy behind off the couch and do some laundry. Thanks for reading! 🙂

 

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