Tante Francine and Charming Brugge Weekend

My friends, Malissa and Gail came to visit me in London, and we decided to take a 3 day trip to Brugge. It's often called the most charming city in Europe. I'd never been, and Gail had been before and loved it, but the main reason for our adventure to this darling town: Malissa was born in Brugge and had lived there until she was seven! Her Tante Francine still lives there. So, of course we HAD to go!

We made our way to London St. Pancras an hour ahead of departure, as recommended, but we were delayed 1 1/2 hours. One of the fallout affects of Brexit, the customs officials were striking and they had volunteers attempting to hold everything together. We found out later that we were fortunate with a 1 1/2 hour delay---we met someone whose train was delayed 4 hours due to the strike. 

By the way: a little info about First Class, Standard Premier or Regular Coach Class. When we purchased our Eurostar tickets, we weren't sure whether to book first class or coach. So, to compromise, we purchased some sort of quasi-first class (called Standard Premier) on the way, and coach on the way back for the 2 hour ride to Brussels. The outbound first class ticket did not get us the fast pass immigration but did afford us a white tablecloth meal.….our final vote: Standard Premier to Brussels was not worth the difference. But do buy your tickets as early as you can, as the price goes up the closer it is to your departure date. 

We (novices) were somehow under the incorrect impression that our train would travel onto Brugge after a quick stop in Brussels. And that the 2 hour train ride noted on the itinerary was all the way to Brugge. So, when we arrived in Brussels, we had a bit of a rude awakening! We stumbled around a bit since the signage was a bit lacking (and also in another language!), and thought we were pretty “lucky” to find a station employee to tell us which train to get on. As it turned out, she put us on a train going the opposite direction, and just before the train took off, we realized our mistake. We ran through that station faster than Usain Bolt and just made a train to Brugge, which was another hour with all the stops. 

When we arrived at the Brugge Station, we made another rookie mistake…. Taking a cab. A cab ride to a hotel in Brugge is pretty unnecessary. Brugge is so small that you can pretty much walk anywhere. And turns out, there is also a free bus from the station--all you have to do is show your train ticket.  

But, we didn't know this, so we took the cab. We learned just how easy it is to walk around Brugge, after the cab took us to a street on the other side of the village from where our AirBnB was. So we walked across town.  Have you ever tried to roll your suitcase down cobblestone streets? My arms vibrated so much, they turned to jelly!

This is where the cab driver let us off. Very cute cobblestoned street....just a bit hard on the luggage wheels! And below is where we should have gone. We LOVE the "skinny" streets of Brugge!
This is where our AirBnb actually was, across town
After checking into our AirBnb, we were met by Tante Francine. Tante Francine is my new idol. Every day, she walks 10,000 steps and rides a stationary bike for 1/2 hour. Every day. I’m so impressed. 

We walked a bit, taking in the charms of Brugge....

....and the expensive shops. (and man, are the shops in Brugge pricy!)

Soon it was dinnertime, so Tante Francine took us to a local restaurant, "Bistro de Pompe" where we ordered traditional Flemish Stew, so good! I Definitely recommend this restaurant!

Halfway through the meal, it started hailing and snowing outside, so when we finished, the streets had snow in the corners of all the doorways. So beautiful. 

After dinner, we had the town to ourselves, for a lovely moonlit stroll through the cute town square...oogling the chocolate shop windows and the architecture. 

The first day was over, so we headed back to our hotel. Here is a shot of Malissa's beautiful view of the cathedral from her window. 

Day two brought us a nice sunny morning. We started out and found a restaurant, Le Pain Quotidien, which made their own breads and served up some nice eggs.

After breakfast, we met up with Tante Francine for a walking tour of Brugge. We soon discovered one fun fact. On EVERY block, there are at least 4 chocolate shops and one beer store. And every other block or so, there’s a tea house. 

Now, at this point, we were chocolate novices, so when Malissa decided to buy some inexpensive candy, Tante Francine set us straight. She absolutely spoiled us with wonderful cakes from Aux Merveilleux (highly recommended) and a pound EACH of Dumon Artisan Chocolates. Tante Francine told us that Dumon is considered the best chocolate in Brugge, and after eating the 3 boxes of chocolate she bought for us, we think she must be right! Love the chocolate.

After stopping at pretty much every chocolate store, we found our way to the Lac d’Amore area, the highlight of our first day. The area is so picture perfect, with a quaint bridge over the river, swans fluttering their wings, and horse carriages resting. We all decided that someone needs to have a wedding at the church there, and invite us. Storybook charming. 

But the big surprise was over the bridge. We entered through an archway, into a courtyard with thousands and thousands of daffodils blooming. Signs everywhere say, "shhh!" because this is a working Benedictine abbey, called The Beguinage. The order was founded in 1245 and Sisters of St. Benedict still live there today.

For lunch we made our way to Zandkoekje restaurant on the other side of the town, across the large paved square. It is a restaurant known for its crepes, and Tante Francine wanted to make sure we try one. 

But we almost couldn't stop laughing enough to order. The menu offered many options that come with a "Free Lawyer". Eventually, the waiter came over and explains that Avocaat is a liquor which originated in the Netherlands, and in a bout of mistaken translation from Flemish to English, the word reverted to Lawyer and thus was featured all over the menu. 

Nonetheless, he said, the restaurant was out of fresh lawyers that day, and we would have to make do with a taste of the Avocaat. Quite good, we must say…like an ultra-creamy eggnog brandy liquor.

After lunch, Gail and I took off to explore some more of the town, and we found some amazing things that you will want to see. Word for the wise. A LOT of places are closed on Mondays, including most museums.

This is a good time to talk about Brugge or Bruges. I kept seeing both spellings, and wondered which is correct. Turns out they both are! Brugge is the traditional Flemish spelling, and is pronounced "broo-gha". The English and French spelling is Bruges, and is pronounced "broozh". I'm going with the Flemish!

Short history: Brugge was founded by the Vikings in the 800's, and its River Zwin linked the village to the North Sea. It was quite the happening place, until the river began to silt up, and Antwerp developed a larger harbor. By the 1800's, it was the poorest city in Belgium. Enter tourism and the 20th century, and Brugge became an international tourist destination, often called "the Venice of the North". 

It's seriously all charming, and Gail and I were able to walk through some of the older streets of town, and we peered over quaint bridges and into beautiful courtyards. Without a plan, we were quite happy to just get lost in this town--to this day, we don’t quite realize what we missed!

We meandered into The Church of our Lady, and had no idea of the treasure inside: Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child at the Church of our Lady, the only sculpture to have left Italy during Michelangelo's lifetime, and the pride of Brugge. The church was going through restoration at the time we visited, but the nice guard kindly let us take a photo through the glass so you can see it.

Behind the Church of our Lady, is a beautiful bridge and courtyard.

We next visited The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a Roman Catholic church, which consists of a lower basilica built in 1134, and a newer gothic upper church which guards a vial (with a piece of cloth in it) said to hold Christ's blood.

Behind the Basilica, off of the Wollestraat, you will see more chocolate and souvenir shops. Past the Torture Museum, is the 2Be-Mood store, where you will find The Beer Wall showcasing all the beers from the region. Yes, it is just one of many beer tasting places, but it's pretty cool inside. In the 15th century, this place used to be the home of the Mayor, and if you go out on the  terrace, you will find yourself seated at the most photographed spot in Brugge, the Rozenhoedkaai.

Where did the time fly? Already time for dinner, we headed to Carlitos Italian Food and Wine Bar on Hoogstraat 21 (reservations recommended).  Gail had eaten here before, and it was just as good this time. Even Tante Francine approved!

To finish off the night, we walked to the Markt Square, and enjoyed the evening lights. Malissa’s family until recently owned 4 restaurants on this square, so we took lots of pictures of them. It was still early in the season, but we imagined how lively it would be on a warm summer night.

Day 3, and already time to leave! We realized we had better get cracking if we wanted to see everything. So we started the morning with a great breakfast at the wonderful Kottee Kaffee, and then took a horse carriage ride from Markt Square. 

Next, it was up the 366 steps to the top of the Belfry of Brugge, in the Markt Square, for a great view of the city. (get there early, as the number of people at a time is quite limited. You have to wait for people to come down before you can go up!)

We next took a canal boat ride from Rozenhoedkaai, which I must say was a highlight of the visit. In hindsight, I recommend doing this the first day you are here, as it will help you get oriented and give you a historical perspective. 

It's already noon now, and we have finished up our weekend in Brugge. We take the short walk to the train station (ha-no cabs this time!), where we sadly bid Tante Francine and her beautiful Brugge goodbye. 

We are already making plans to see Tante Francine again, in London or San Francisco, and of course there are the wedding plans to make, at the Lac d’Amour church…. Whose wedding, we don’t care, as long as someone gets married in this charming town! 

Saluu (or Goodbye) from Brugge!

Useful information in planning your trip to Brugge:

Things to do in and around Brugge: 

Outside of town:
If you have extra time, you might enjoy exploring the seaside town of Ghent (40 minutes away), or Antwerp and Brussels about 100km. Also, we noticed that Dunkirk France is very close, for all you history buffs. 

Museums and History:
Groeninge Museum
St. John's Hospital Art Museum 
Salvador Dali Museum
Gezelle Museum
Lamp Museum
Torture Museum
Diamond Museum
Our Lady of the Pottery

You might try a tea in one of Brugge’s many tearooms:
Lizzies Wafels, Tea Room Laurent, Patsserie Academia, Gingerbread

Chocolate and sweets:
Choco-Story is a Chocolate museum in Brugge: Wijnzakstraat 2
Dumon Chocolates: Eiermarkt 6
Aux Merveilleux: Cakes http://www.auxmerveilleux.com/home_en/

Bruges Beer Museum
De Halve Maan
De Garve
Bourgogne des Flandres Brewery Tour

Bistro De Pompe
Carlitos Italian
Kottee Kafee
Le Pain Quotidien


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