Bruges: The Venice of the North
(For more photos from Bruges, scroll through the side-show at the bottom of this post)
After Paris and London, where you try to squeeze a thousand things into a few days, Bruges was a welcome break. There are still main sights, like the Belfry clock tower and the Markt, but it’s more a place you can just wander around.
I’ve discovered I have a pet peeve when I travel. I hate looking at things when I don’t know what they are or why they’re significant. This must be the nerd/journalist in me.
Bite sized history lesson on Bruges:
- Bruges was a major port city in the thirteenth century and is considered the New York of the Middle Ages
- The first stock exchange began in Bruges in the 1300s
- Bruges is famous for chocolate because a Belgium chocolateer invented the chocolate praline here
I spent most of my time in Bruges strolling the canals and eating way too much Belgian chocolate. Every corner has its own shop. I also did a beer tasting my hostel ran, which turned into a pub crawl. Belgian’s have more than five thousand different types of beer and they like their beer strong. Think six to nine per cent alcohol. I woke up the next day with a pounding headache, having somehow lost my room key and bus pass between bars. But man, those beers were good.
Besides the beer and chocolate, exploring Bruges is like seeing a postcard come to life. There are some seriously old buildings (circa the 1300s) with ivy facades and gable roofs. And if the buildings don’t win you over, the canals will.
Bruges and the case of the rickety bicycle
The big thing to do in Bruges is rent a bike, so I decided to spend one day exploring the Belgian countryside using pedal power. I was excited to learn my hostel rented bikes for nine euros – three euros cheaper than the rate at rental stalls. So I got on my bike one morning and happily set off with a self guided tour map.
My vision of whizzing through the countryside evaporated after about five minutes, when I realized my rickety little bike only went one speed: snail. Picture someone peddling like crazy and going nowhere – that’s what it felt like. Determined not to let this ruin my day I continued out of Bruges on a route labelled Castle Hunt. I (slowly) made my way down the canals into picturesque cornfields and farmland. I passed grazing horses, cows and sheep on wooded pathways. It was a truly European experience by tourist standards.
Except my butt was killing me. KILLING ME. My seat was too low, my arms bent instead of straight, my knees coming too close to the handle bars. I passed one beautiful castle on my route and an abbey before the path changed to cobblestone. Bouncing along on cobblestone with a sore bum? Not fun. I was done. At the next stop, I veered back towards Bruges. The entire trip took me about three and a half hours. At least an hour and a half too long.
I looked at the bicycles other people were riding and they looked more like the road bikes people have in Ottawa, and less like the cruiser I had. Needless to say I was quite happy to turn my bike in at the end of the day. I would definitely recommend seeing Bruges by bike, the areas I did see were gorgeous. Just be wary of what bike you rent and make sure it’s adjusted properly before you leave. Your butt will thank you.
THE CHOCO STORY CHOCOLATE MUSEUM: Explains the history of chocolate from the Aztec’s to today. See a demonstration of how to make chocolate pralines by hand, and read about all the reasons chocolate is good for you. The best part: free samples on your way in AND out.
DE GARRE: Translates to “the corridor.” De Garre is a local bar off the main square in the smallest corridor in Bruges. It is the only place in the world you can order a beer called Tripel van de Garee, which is 11 per cent alcohol. It’s so strong, the bar serves it with cheese and will only let you buy three glasses. (I was quite happy after just one.)
NEXT STOP: Brussels, Belgium