In the morning before anyone was up, we headed to St Pancras International station - only a 5 minute walk from Keystone Crescent to wait for our train. Eurostar is the high-speed railway service connecting London with Brussels and then a local train to Bruges, the latter our destination for a night. It is a change from taking a plane, and I just have to not think about the time we will be under the English channel. We had booked a table area with seating for 4, and by the looks of the people waiting to board, it was going to be a full train. As it turned out, a group of 5 had 2 people pull out at the last minute so we had empty seats next to us giving us room to stretch out. We called it 'business class'.
Once out of the greater London metropolitan area, the scenery is lovely racing through England's south-east towards Dover. In no time at all we are plunged into darkness and have entered the tunnel. The train is very quiet, hardly any noise and putting my thoughts into a jigsaw on my Ipad, the 20 or so minutes that it takes to cross the tunnel is over before I know it and we are back up in the glorious sunshine. Countryside France looks much like England, the only difference is the cars are driving on the right hand side of the road. Crossing the border into Belgium, we are soon arriving into Brussels where we caught a domestic train to Bruges.
Bruges is a beautiful medieval city, similar to Amsterdam and Venice being set on canals. Many of its cobbled streets are pedestrian only, so a great place to walk around. Following our Ipad maps, we locate our accommodation for the evening - B & B Ambrogio. It's a small premisis with only 2 rooms to let, but a great location with a view overlook the canal, and the friendliest welcome we have ever experienced. Philippe and Katrien show us over their newly renovated property, complete with sauna room in the basement and bicycles for our use. We drop our backpacks, and with the sun shining, decide to go for a ride. I can't remember the last time I was on a bike, but riding is one of those things that you never really forget.
The view from our bedroom at B & B Ambrogio, Bruges
Pete and self on our bikes. Spent a couple of hours each day riding along the cycle paths following the canal that encompasses Bruges Old Town. I was a bit wobbly to start with, but it all came back to me. I was however a little sore the following day - too long in the saddle or maybe it was the tough going over the cobbles.
Bruges, a world heritage site is one of the best preserved medieval cities of Europe, suffering only minor destructions in the world wars. Located in the city centre is the Markt (Market Square) covering a hectare and surrounded by Gothic architecture. Imposing is the enormous Belfry Tower and Cloth Hall. The belfry seems to chime all day long starting 5 minutes before every quarter of the hour to announce that the quarter is about to strike, and for 5 minutes after, they announce that the quarter has struck. Just as well it is a beautiful sound.
An evening shot of the Belfry Tower located in the Markt
The Markt empties out over dinner time. A good time for a romantic walk
Our bike riding took us through many parks, trees coming to life after winter and more tulips!
Wisteria growing outside many homes - even purple painted doors to match.
Before finding somewhere for dinner, we decided to have a drink at Bruges International Beer Café - La Trappiste. It is located in an 800 year old cellar with spectacular vaulted arches, and boasts having 17 varieties of beer on tap and more in bottles. After our beers, it was off to dinner. We hadn't booked anywhere and it took us 3 restaurants to find somewhere who had a table free. Bruges is a very popular destination, and it isn't even high season yet.
Pete at La Trappiste with a beer paddle with 5 different flavours
Vaulted arches of La Trappiste Beer Café
Our street - or should I say our canal after dark.
Next morning, breakfast was served in the dining room set with just 2 tables. Just squeezed orange juice and fresh fruit salad, followed by smoked salmon, cream cheese and chives. A basket of croissants and pastries baked fresh that morning sat on our table tantalizing our taste buds. We had to decline a cooked breakfast, we would never fit it in. All served on navy/gold edged crockery and linen napkins - like no other B & B we have ever stayed at. Philippe and Katrien enquiring as to how they could help us plan out day or could they get us anything more. This accommodation has only been opened less than a year and has already been awarded a 9.9 rating from Bookings.com., and we could see why. It should have been a 10!
It was time to check out, but not say goodbye just yet. As we had an evening train trip home, we still had the whole day to explore. We were free to use the bikes again, so leaving our backpacks there, we headed off again in glorious sunshine for another circuit of the town. The drivers are extremely courteous towards cyclists and as well as the numerous cycle tracks, the main roads all have bike lanes. We recovered much of our tracks from the previous day, completing the perimeter of the old town, then cutting through the centre and out again. Bruges is known for its chocolate and lace, with shops and market stalls everywhere you turn. There are also museums for both, the chocolate museum having the longest queues!!
We cycled down to the Beguinage - a semi-monastic community of Benedictine sisters. A artist has been granted permission to build these 'tree houses' in the grounds - meant to represent a place for 'reflection'......... A purely symbolic structure as there are no apparent means to get up into the lofts.
Beautiful cycle ways throughout the town. Green everywhere with just a touch of red.
Some of the roads were closing in preparation for a running race soon to start. We still had a canal cruise to do, so we returned our bikes, thanked our hosts and headed to one of the boat departure points.
It is a leisurely way to see the town, a 30 minute meander up and down the canals, ducking under bridges low enough that you could touch the roof and picturesque scenery around each corner. The skipper gives a running commentary on the architecture and points of interest, jumping from English, to French and Flemish. These boats run from 10.00am - 7.00pm every 30 minutes carrying up to 25 passengers, and we never saw one that wasn't full. Below are some shots taken on the boat ride.
Approaching a pretty 'dead end' on the canal - a U-turn point for the boats.
Vine clad walls of some of the private homes along the canal.
Brick Gothic architecture for which Bruges is so famous.
The Belfry Tower
The race was on and there were literally thousands of competitors - men, women and children. The highest competitor number we saw on their shirts was around 4600 - that's a lot of runners. The sun was shining and it was warm, the scarlet faces of the runners telling the story.
A quick stop in one of the chocolate shops to purchase some goodies and it was time to head back to the train station and start our journey home. Another amazing destination to add to our list, so glad we came.