Friday 14 September 2018

Belgium travel diary: day 5

My last proper day in Belgium started before 5am, when our alarms were ringing and we were stumbling out of our beds still a bit tipsy. I was excited to be heading to Bruges, though, and we quickly got ready then checked out of our lovely hotel. Miraculously we got an Uber at that time of day, and it dropped us off at Bruxelles North station where it took us approximately half an hour to find where the coaches actually left from. It’s really not very well signposted, which was so annoying, but luckily our coach was delayed and we did manage to find the departure area (next to the multi storey and sort of near the Eurolines ticket office) with time to spare. We were travelling with Flixbus, and the return journey from Brussels to Bruges was around €10 each. The coach left at around 6.15am and we were in Bruges before half eight, dropped at the train station which is around a half an hour walk from the centre of the city. As we had plenty of time to kill before we could really do anything, we walked into town through cobbled streets and little parks until we reached Hotel Boterhuis where we left our bags and had a quick freshen up.
day trip to bruges

Our reason for getting up at silly o’clock and getting the coach (instead of the train, which is more expensive but faster and more frequent) was that we would get to the city before everyone else and avoid the hefty queues for the popular places. Only, everyone seemed to have the same idea as us so let me warn you if you do want to avoid the crowds you’ll have to get there mega early because it’s just busy all the time. So we did the sensible thing and went straight for breakfast at Achiel on Achiel Van Ackerplein 2, Corner Ezelstraat, which has quite a glamorous feel to it, and while it is pretty expensive the food and service was amazing. I had a bit of a continental breakfast: a croissant, some bread, ham & cheese, jam & Nutella and some juice which was €11. You also got a hot drink included, but if you know me you’ll know I have an aversion to hot drinks that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon so the waitress let me swap it out for coke, even though it was breakfast time. When on holiday, right?

After breakfast we decided to check out the Belfry but the queue was SO LONG and didn’t move the entire time we stood deliberating whether we wanted to pay €12 to go up it – and in the end we decided against it. We mooched down to the canal and, in true tourist style, walked straight to the first boat tour place we saw. It was fully booked, so Holly and I sat on a bench along the water to do our make up while Mike went to get a drink. At this point I got attacked by a butterfly which was both terrifying and embarrassing, but soon enough we were on our way to the next little bridge where we paid €8 each for a boat tour along the canal. Now, I get seasick and I was fully expecting this to be awful, and I did feel a bit wobbly at first but it was fairly calm and I actually found it really enjoyable. Our captain was really funny and informative, and we got to see some gorgeous areas of Bruges as well as a huge whale made out of plastic collected from the water which is a point-proving art installation. 

Following on from the tour we visited the torture museum on Wollestraat which is €8 per person; having visited not one but two torture museums in the past, I can tell you they seem to be pretty similar wherever you are. It was interesting to learn about some Bruges-specific torture, though, and I always find it borderline funny to see these wax figures in weird and wonderful positions with weapons sticking out of them because they look so strange. We were in here for probably around 40 minutes, and then popped into a souvenir shop to buy some magnets like the proper little tourists we were (are). My friend had recommended a chocolate café to go to so we headed in that direction, stopping briefly so Holly and I could check out some beautiful Vendula handbags in a shop window. The café is called Choco Jungle Bar, and I paid €12 for a chocolate fondue that was easily enough for the three of us, only nobody else wanted any so I sat and dipped strawberries and Lotus biscuits in heavenly melted chocolate until frankly, I felt a bit sick.

We then took the opportunity to head back to our hotel for a nap, now that we could officially check in, and then we freshened up and headed out to find a bar for beer and card games. We hit up a couple of bars, both with a very chilled out vibe, and it was lovely weather too. We were due to go for a spooky walking tour at 8pm, so decided to fill up on the pretzels and nuts that came with our drinks, and then eat after our tour. After sooooo many games of Shithead and Rummy, we headed into the main square where the Belfry is and met our walking tour guide in the centre – after taking some funny pictures, of course. The tour began, and we visited cool buildings such as an old convent which was rumoured to be haunted. This was my first ever walking tour, and I think I’ll do a more in depth post on it but I have to say I really enjoyed it. It was free AND you got a complimentary pint at the end of it!

The tour finished a little bit out of the centre at around 9.30, by which time we were getting hungry. We had a drink at a nearby bar, and then started off in the direction of a Chinese restaurant that wasn’t too far away. After a short walk, made hilarious by Mike pretending to be a tour guide, we found the restaurant which was closed. As was every other restaurant in Bruges. We walked and walked, Googled and Googled, until we finally found somewhere open that said it did food – a beautiful jazz bar. I ran inside and practically threw myself at the barman, asking him if we could have something to eat. He said no and I asked if we were too late, and he told me no but his chef was on holiday. I was gutted because I would have loved to stay there because the vibe and the décor was amazing, but it wasn’t to be. That just means a trip back, right? Instead we headed back to the main square and got some more flipping Belgian fries (I swear I didn’t plan to live on a diet solely based around potatoes and beer) because it was food and it was there and we were so hungry.

From our vantage point on some benches we could see down a little road to a smaller square made up of some bars that seemed to be open, so we headed over and got a drink at a bar ready for more cards. The bar next door was playing loud dance music, but there wasn’t many people around and slowly the various bars started to make moves to pack themselves away for the night. So we headed back in the direction of the chocolate café we'd been at earlier, and there was another bar called The Monk a few doors down that was playing soft music and was frequented mostly by locals. Even though there was a bit of fight, it was a really nice way to end our day in Bruges and by the time it got to 5am, a whole 24 hours after we'd started our day, we headed back to the hotel to get some rest in good spirits...

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