We departed Amsterdam for a long day of travel to Belgium. Our cheap tickets required two changes, so three trains to get to Bruges. The first train was a short 20 minute hop to a random station where we changed to a train to Antwerp. We arrived in Antwerp with only 12 minutes to make our connection. Antwerp station was one of the biggest train stations I’ve seen. We arrived on the lowest level and could see four levels more above us of trains coming and going. Of course, our next train was on the top level, so we had to pretty much run in order to catch it.
We arrived in Bruges in the afternoon, and Jeanne made contact with the agency to meet at our apartment. Fortunately this one had not been double booked and it was a short taxi ride from the station. We arrived and met the agent who made quite a show of having us enter the apartment. I understood why once we opened the sliding doors from the main entrance into the living space. This apartment was amazing. A modern, updated kitchen complete with automatic coffee/espresso/latte machine and an electronic juicer led into a large living and dining area. A high end massage chair looked to a large flat screen TV. The chair was pretty much fought over the entire trip.
Beyond the living space, sliding doors opened to a small, but nice backyard. At the back of the yard, more glass doors opened into a room with a large sunken hot tub and a brand new steam or infrared sauna. Yes…this place was relaxation central!
Three bedrooms on the two additional levels upstairs meant no dorm style bunking. Col and I found our room to be small, but comfortable with a weird shower and sink tucked into the corner of the room. The house was wired for a sound system throughout; all we had to do was plug in our music and we were good to go. We set out right away for a short five minute walk into the main part of the town to find some dinner. Lisa and Jeanne had been to Bruges before, so they knew the lay of the land. We found a small Italian bistro and ate outside as the town picked up for evening activities.
We’d known since arriving in Europe that the weather would take a turn on our second day in Belgium, so we decided on a trip to the coast for the first full day. We walked to the train station and boarded the train for a 30 minute ride to Oostende. We weren’t really sure what to expect, but figured it was worth the time to at least go see the North Sea. We arrived in Oostende to some blustery weather, but decided to make the best of it and walked down to the shoreline/boardwalk area. There really wasn’t much to see, as this are is pretty industrial. We had some fun with a large, random sculpture exhibit and then Lisa, Jer, and I decided we at least needed to get our feet wet. We kicked off our shoes and socks and made our way down to the water, which wasn’t as cold as we expected. And, now we can at least say we’ve dunked our toes in the North Sea. We wandered the city a bit and stopped for lunch to warm up before heading back to Bruges for a homemade dinner at the apartment.
The next day greeted us with cold temperatures, wind and rain, so we stuck with our original plan to park ourselves in pubs or other indoor activities. We visited the national french fry museum (yes, Belgium claims credit for this tasty treat!) and a chocolate museum before finding a pub Lisa and Jeanne remembered with more than 400 beers available.
In Belgium, whenever you order a beer it’s served in a glass designed specifically for that beer (think Stella and their “chalice”). If the glass specific to the ordered beer is not available, the server will come and offer you the option of drinking from a non-branded glass or order another beer. More often than not, Belgians will choose a different beer rather than drink from the wrong glass. In many of the tourist shops you can purchase a bottle of beer along with the designated glass as a box set. We hung out and enjoyed several progressively stronger beers while we waited for the weather to clear. Once the rain stopped, Jer, Lisa, Jeanne, col and I climbed to the top of the belfry in the center of Bruges. The weather hampered the views a bit, but it was still pretty spectacular to look at everything from the top of the 366 step climb! After the tower, we visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood where we supposedly viewed dried blood from Jesus Christ. We headed back to the apartment for another dinner in and evening in the hot tub!
Our last full day in Bruges was another dreary weather day. We decided to brave the weather and rented bikes for the relatively short ride from Bruges to Damme. The ride is really nice and mostly along a canal on a dedicated bike path, but getting to the start of the path can be a bit tricky with all the cars and traffic in Bruges. We also had to wait about 30 minutes for two large barges to cross under the drawbridge that blocked our way. The ride was very chilly, but we still had a good time. It was clearly off season in Damme and combined with the weather pretty much everything was closed. We wandered a bit before finding what seemed like the only open cafe for lunch before heading back to Bruges.
Back in Bruges the weather continued to make things difficult. Walking the narrow sidewalks with all the tourists and their umbrellas got to be a bit annoying…and dangerous! We made our way to the brewery that still operates in Bruges for a tour and tasting. The tour guide assigned to our time was really funny and did a great job of sharing the history of beer in Belgium. At the end of the tour we hung out and sampled some of the brews while we waited for Cheryl who was off shopping for a new handmade wedding band.
We wrapped up the afternoon with a visit to the famous Chocolate Line chocolate shop. With some very interesting flavors (chocolate with bacon and a stencil of Miss Piggy on it), the shop was a lot of fun. We took a sample box back to the apartment to share while we had our third consecutive home cooked dinner. One more night of hot tubbing and the massage chair and it was time to get ready to head back to the U.S.
The agent from the rental company was nice enough to come to the apartment early in the morning to perform our checkout and make two trips to the train station so we didn’t need to call a taxi. We caught an early morning train to Brussels for our flights home. The heavy loads meant no business class for Col or me. The rest of the gang flew Delta to JFK while Col and I hitched a ride on United to Washington D.C. The Economy Plus seats were nice enough, and the flight attendant in our cabin took a shine to us. She provided several free beers and cocktails to us making for a pleasant ride.
We landed in DC and cleared immigration and customs rather quickly. Initially, I was going to give my Global Entry pass a try, but ended up waiting with Col in the line for immigration since it wasn’t too long. We were listed for a flight to Las Vegas later in the afternoon, but after some checking, I found we could fly to Houston and then Vegas and be home about two hours earlier than the non-stop flight. We quickly changed our listing and headed to Houston for a tight connection to Vegas. We were rewarded with first class seats for the last leg, which meant we could get a couple hours sleep before our long drive home. 28 hours after we left our apartment in Bruges, we walked through the door at home to a couple very happy doggies.
This is one of my favorite trips. We had such a great time seeing new places and spending quality time with our friends. An added bonus to me were the new transportation experiences making our way to and around Europe. I can’t wait until our next adventure!