My first blog of 2018 is a conventional read…but it reflects a super couple of days with good friends.
Who would have thought that a conversation held a little over 12 months ago over a glass of prosecco whilst celebrating a friends’ 50th would result in a city break to Bruges? However that’s exactly what happened and recently, Gaynor, her partner Phil, me and Mr Edwards spent a great short break in this fairy-tale city. Ably driven by Gaynor and Phil, we arrived at a Premier Inn in Maidstone on the banks of the River Medway for an overnight stop before proceeding to Ebbsfleet International the following morning to pick up the Eurostar to Brussels.
It’s a mode of transport we’ve never considered before, but thanks to concierge and tour operator extraordinaire, Phil, we found ourselves at the station, awaiting the arrival of our train with excitement. It’s a different experience to flying, and whilst there is the obligatory security checking, both human and baggage, it feels a much less intense process than that in an airport. Eurostar is a very efficient method of travel, you stand in an allocated place on the platform so that once the train pulls in you are beside your carriage and there are just 8 minutes for all passengers to board before it’s on its way. The trains are clean, comfortable and spacious with lots of room for luggage, they are also incredibly fast, reaching speeds of up to 300kph (100kph through the Eurotunnel), but the smooth ride means it doesn’t feel like you are travelling at speed.
As rural France and then Belgium flashed past, we chatted and relaxed, arriving at Brussels in just 2 hours and then caught a second train out to Bruges itself. Our hotel was a short ten minute walk from the main station and as we turned a cobbled corner and we had our first view of Bruges, I felt sure I was going to enjoy our stay.
Hotel Academie is a well-appointed 4* hotel in a quiet street, close to Lake Minnewater (the Lake of Love). After a warm greeting and swift check-in process, we dropped our bags in our rooms and set off to look for the main square. Luckily for Perryn and me, Phil and Gaynor had visited the city before, and Phil’s innate sense of direction (which he employed the whole trip) meant we found the square very quickly, just as the sun was dropping. It is a beautiful place! There are pretty coloured restaurants, beautiful buildings with ornate and elaborate facades and of course the Belfort Tower immortalised in the film ‘In Bruges’. Dinner on Monday evening was in ‘One Minnewater’ where we all enjoyed a typical Flemish stew, rich and full of flavour along with a couple of drinks before retiring to bed.
Tuesday morning dawned and I was up and ready to go exploring before sunrise, dragging Perryn along with me, and we headed back to the square as the sun rose and the skies turned blue where I was able to get a couple of photos of it much less populated than the previous afternoon. We returned to the hotel to meet the others, and with Phil as our guide, we set off on a tour of the city, twisting and turning down alleyways, wandering along canals (Bruges is known as the Venice of the North) past windmills, barges and a variety of buildings, many of which date back to medieval times. Some 22500 steps later, we returned to the hotel to drop some things back in the rooms. It was at this point I was rather privileged in that Phil shared a very special secret with me (if you’ve seen my FB feed, you will likely know what it was), I am however very good at keeping secrets! That evening, we returned to One Minnewater for another very welcome meal, the men decided to go for a drink in a bar close by and Gaynor and I took ourselves off with our cameras to see if we could make some photographs of Bruges by night, joining the men a short while later.
St Valentine’s day dawned with blue skies and sunshine and we made for a little restaurant ‘Less is More’ for breakfast, another warm welcome and a reasonably priced meal set us up for the day. We wandered around the market, visited the Historium where Gaynor enjoyed a Virtual Reality experience, whilst the rest of us enjoyed watching Gaynor in her VR goggles, had coffee to warm us up and then took a horse and carriage trip around part of the city, the granny blankets were particularly welcome as the temperature was a chilly 2 degrees at most.
If you visit Bruges, I highly recommend a visit to Bistro Pro Deo, a cosy, intimate restaurant housed in a 16th century whitewashed building. As it was Valentine’s Day, there were just around 10 tables for two and we enjoyed a superb meal thanks to hosts Nathalie (FoH) and Kristoff (Chef). They say that music is a great conversation piece, and this was especially true of Bistro Pro Deo, also known as the Soul Kitchen, it turned out that the owners are into music, but particularly Northern Soul and Mr E was in his element!
We left the restaurant, and at Phil’s request, took one last alongside the main canal. As Perryn and I walked down to view some pieces in a gallery window we realised that Gaynor and Phil were a little way behind us…and then suddenly, there they were beside us with huge smiles. Ever the romantic, Phil had done the deed, even getting down on one knee in the wet and had asked Gaynor to marry him…and she as you probably guessed, said yes…it really was a beautiful moment. We grabbed a quick photo and headed back to the hotel for a glass of fizz to toast the happy couple.
Our last day saw us enjoy a leisurely breakfast at Less is More (another recommended eatery) before we checked out and made our way back to Bruges station for the train to Brussels. It was as easy a return journey as it had been outward and equally as quick, our top speed was approximately 284kph!!
My thoughts on Bruges?
It’s a compact, fairy-tale city, with an interesting history and warm and friendly locals. The beer is great, but ask for recommendations in terms of both dining and drinking, as it can be pricey, however there are also gems out there (One Minnewater & Bistro Pro Deo are recommended). It’s relatively quiet in February, but you do need to wrap up (and not leave your hat in a bar as I did!) as it can be chilly, the locals say it gets a lot busier later in the year. Is a return visit on the cards? Definitely, there are museums, cathedrals and churches we didn’t see this time around.
Thanks to Gaynor and Phil for being great company, it’s fair to say we definitely made some memories!
Until next time…