An extended layover on a recent cross Atlantic trip gave us the perfect excuse to spend a day in Bruge. But who needs an excuse for a city that boasts the ABCs: atmosphere, beer and chocolate? Many cities will tell you that they are famous for these three things but Bruge truly is.
Starting at the top, Bruge is a perfectly preserved medieval city with buildings dating from the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth century. It is a compact city and easy to sample in a day, but a genuine slow traveler would more likely enjoy two or three days to partake in more of its pleasures.
We set off from the international airport of Brussels, and after an uneventful trip on two trains, we arrived after 90 minutes at the Bruge Central Station. A quick walk down a treelined boulevard crossing several canals brought us to our first stop, a local taphouse. We figured that liquid refreshment was in order, considering that Belgium is home to 300 different brews, and at any given bar you can find at least ten local brews on tap, ranging from pale ales to the more hefty trippels and even quadrupells. As home brewers, we considered this part of our “continuing education.” We limited ourselves to two very good brews, and thus outfitted we were ready to see the city.
We found ourselves in Market Square, the medieval town center, flanked by two large palaces, one of them with a belltower of 300 steps that you can climb should you choose to do so. We passed. The picturesque square is lined at this time of year with Christmas fairs and booths selling wares of all kinds, mostly food and gifts. This was our favorite booth.
One of the more remarkable features of Bruge is the number of chocolate shops that line the medieval city streets. The sweet smell of chocolate is everpresent, like a cloud hanging over this wet, gray city. We counted more than fifty shops, but I am sure that we didn’t seen them all. Chocolate in various shapes and forms abound, each shop with its own specialty. One of the more remarkable ones we saw featured houses formed of chocolate. Fortunately for us, there were no free tastes.
Wondering why one small city is possibly both the chocolate and beer capital of the world, we considered the misty, grey sky, the startlingly short winter days, and the penetrating cold and decided that both chocolate and beer would be exceedingly good “pick me ups,” and therapeutic indeed for those suffering from SAD- seasonal affective disorder.
We continued walking through the city, crossing canals, lined with charming row houses, perfectly maintained since the 17th century, soaking up the atmosphere, the chocolate smells, and considering which beer to drink next.
We came across the eighteenth century fish market still active today, however our timing was off and all we met were the clean up trucks hosing down the stalls, and the fishy smells. A quick look around brought us to the fresh fish store across the street sporting a mound of fresh matjes in the window. Who could resist?
We rounded out our visit with a beautiful harp concert in the St. John’s Hospital (no pics to show), and a visit to the Half Moon Brewery. By the time we got to the Brewery the tours were over for the day, but they were more than happy to serve us their justifiably famous brews.
Ending the day in Bruge full and happy, with early twilight descending, and a faint mist turning into cold rain, we alighted the train back to Brussels and the continuation of our trans Atlantic trip.