Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Very Beginning {the very best place to start}: Bruges

In August 2010 my friend Pete and I decided to take a weekend coach trip to Belgium. Before this trip, despite living in London and having Europe on my doorstep for over 2 years, I had yet been bitten by the notorious travel bug. Well, this trip changed that, and I couldn't be more thankful I got bit ;)

Originally, there was going to be a big group of us on this trip, but as tends to happen, plans changed and only Pete and I were able to go.  Even though we hadn't been friends for very long, we were still really excited about the weekend and meeting some new people. It just so happens that it was this very weekend where I met Hamish.

Bruges exceeded expectations. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but as I had travelled around Europe with my family when I was younger, I certainly wasn't expecting to fall in love with the little city as much as I did.  It was the end of summer and the weather couldn't have been better for the most part of the weekend. Saturday was spent on the coach, making friends with the other travellers and then we had most of the day to ourselves to explore the old historic city centre. For those of you who don't know, Bruges has a stunning historic city centre(ish). The old town still has much of its medieval architecture in place and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2000.  It is also completely surrounded by canals with the only access to cars via certain bridges scattered around the centre.

Beautiful Canals

One of my favourite memories of the weekend was a boat trip along these canals. The canal banks are covered in weeping willows and amazing old houses and architecture. Some of the properties literally look like they are about to fall into the water and there are too many beautiful old arched bridges to mention! This was a great way to get our bearings of the city and definitely made navigating afterwards a little easier.

Sampling the local beer
Belgium is renowned for its beer, I particularly enjoyed tasting some of the different flavours. My favourite was the cherry beer...mmmm! In addition to the beer we also sampled a few of the other delicious Belgian delicacies such as Belgian chocolates and truffles. These chocolate shops are everywhere and you are guaranteed to find something you like in all flavours and shapes as you can see in the picture below. Another personal favourite were the fresh, hot Belgian waffles, covered in Nutella or Speculoos and dripping in cream. I had never heard of Speculoos until this weekend, but I highly recommend it to anyone who has the chance to try it. As if we hadn't already consumed our daily calorie intake in the beer, chocolate and waffles, we topped it all off with some triple fried fries. So tasty! {I should probably add this was all before dinner!}

As our group consisted of mostly young people, we had a fantastic night out in Bruges. We drank a few {too many} Jagermeisters, which were only EUR 1.50 or something ridiculously cheap. The atmosphere in general was brilliant - there is definitely such a thing as Eurotrash music, the theme song of the weekend was Papa Americano, which was played at least twice an hour at every single place we went to.  The night consisted of many "TO BRUGES" cheers and lots of dancing in hot and sweaty nightclubs, but was one of my best nights out to date.

Over the weekend we also made a quick train trip into Brussels - it is less than an hour from Bruges to Brussels. To be honest, after the quaint and charming Bruges,  I was not very taken with Brussels. It felt like any other big city.  We did however manage to see the famous Manneken Pis and eat some more waffles before returning back to the loveliness of Bruges.

Nameless Graves
On the way back to England we stopped in the Flanders Field region and visited a memorial site, graveyard and also a trench museum with an area which has been built to replicate the actual trenches of WWI {built in a site where real trenches were}.  Flanders was a really humbling experience. There are so many graves, and we were only able to view one of the remembrance sites. The saddest part for me was seeing the graves without any names on them, someones brother, father, son, died fighting for his country and lost his identity too.  There were also countless walls covered with the names of soldiers from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia which really struck a note with me personally as these people weren't even fighting for their own countries or their own war. What a waste of young life. 

So many headstones
The trench museum was really interesting, you could walk around a trench zone, and as it had rencently rained, it was a bit muddy, which made the experience even more realistic. I quite enjoyed learning about WWI during my school years and would highly recommend doing this part of the trip for anyone else with a similar interest. 

Trench Museum

Overall - this was a fantastic weekend away. Delicious food, new friends, great experiences and the local people were extra friendly and spoke very good English which makes any destination a pleasure.  We managed to do so much in such a short amount of time and when I returned to London, all I wanted to do was book my next weekend/holiday in Europe. Bitten by the bug- August 2010. 

Fun Facts about Bruges:

  • Bruges is Know as the Venice of the north and gets its name from the canals that surround it - there are over 80 bridges!
  • The singer "Gotye" is originally from Bruges.
  • Bruges is the number one tourist destination in Belgium (not surprising!) 
  • The city is very liberal and has recognised same sex marriage since 2003.
  • Belgium has over 400 types of beer, and Bruges has its very own Beer Museum

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