On Thursday, our train arrived at Bruges’ Central Station during the middle of a rainstorm.
We exited the station just as our bus pulled away, so waited for the next one under a canopy full of damp people.
The rain had stopped when we reached our stop along a canal.
We walked a few blocks to our B&B, admiring the small brick houses that densely lined the street. It was immediately obvious that we would enjoy our visit.
Cone of confusion.
B is for Bruges.
One of many charming streets.
Row of brick houses.
All colors of brick.
Our charming room (115€ per night, cash only) was one of only three, upstairs, with windows and french doors on one side. Two unfortunate issues: there was no fan and the bathroom had no full wall separating it from the rest of the room.
Perhaps in Belgium it’s considered romantic to hear your companion use the toilet in partial view, but I prefer a wall.
We left our windows closed, then went in search of lunch. Our target was closed, so we walked a few doors down to an authentic-looking Thai takeout place. Thai TV played behind the counter and the Thai manboy talked to his mother, the cook. So far, so good.
We ordered, then sat down at a humble table. A fun conversation began with the manboy about the restaurant, Thailand, our travels, his travels, and more. He was excited to talk to us, and we were equally conversation-starved.
Duck and ducklings.
By a canal.
After lunch, J and I walked into the city center and split ways. The other went window shopping, as I unsuccessfully searched for good Belgian waffles.
I meandered back to the room to rest, then got a text from J regarding her discovery that the supermarket was closed. She went to a bro-filled restaurant for dinner, and I decided to rest a little longer and eat a bag of pistachios.
In the town square.
Seats and seats.
God is in the details.
Golden bear and fudge bear.
Crossing the canal.
Stray cat behind a fence. No petting.
Buildings along the canal.
Green door, magenta blooms.
Later, she texted about the discovery of old wooden windmills at a nearby canal.
I hustled over to meet her, and we watched the sunset from a grassy hill.
It was after 10 and the sky still had a little light in it. I was now feeling hungry, but most of the restaurants were closed or full of people on their drink course. I was a grump.
Sunset sword fighters.
That night, our room was hot and I slept on the floor by the open doors for part of it.
Early Friday morning, I was awoken by the sounds of a cat fight and a husky, perverted pigeon.
A few hours later, we seated ourselves at the downstairs breakfast table and tried to make conversation with an older couple of Belgian moles and a smiling German couple.
English was the common language. Our host, a friend of the owner, seemed quad-lingual that morning. I felt inferior.
After breakfast, we walked to Bauhaus Hostel and rented well-maintained single speed bikes for the day (9€ each per day with credit card for deposit).
Our destination was the small town of Damme to the northeast of Bruges. Our host advised us to take a side canal to get there, and I’m glad she did.
After a half a kilometer along the side canal, we were out of the city. Rather than follow the route back to the main canal and bike path, we took a variety of narrow roads through flat farmland.
Entering the green.
Along the small canal.
The small canal.
There was barely any traffic. We passed muscular cattle grazing in fields, horses, small stone farm houses and estates, and fields full of corn, wheat, potatoes and more.
It was beautiful.
We stopped in Damme and ate a pricey, but delicious lunch on the back patio of a restaurant on the main road.
A sunny detour.
Bike path along a main road.
Barn and wheat.
From there, we biked through more farmland to the canal perpendicular to the one running into Bruges. This canal was a perfect straight line with an island in the middle, a road on one side, and a biking path and tree tunnel on the other.
We rode south through the trees that extended to infinity in both directions. It was one of the highlights of the entire trip.
After two kilometers, we backtracked, took a dirt road, and passed through more farmland before entering the edge of Bruges.
The afternoon was baking hot, so we cut through a lower income residential area to get to the shaded canal.
Bright green rental bikes in great shape.
The most beautiful tree tunnel I’ve ever seen.
Along the main canal.
The canal island.
Pigs eating spuds.
Another tunnel view.
Exiting tree cover.
Before returning the bikes, we biked a wide circle around the city on the well-maintained bike paths. It wasn’t fun to cross intersections and dodge people again.
We bought groceries and ate a snack platter dinner in the backyard of the B&B. The old dog of the house waddled up to us hoping for food scraps but settling for pats.
After dinner, we played a game of Scrabble and I slaughtered J. I absolutely slaughtered her.
Our Scrabble board.
Saturday morning, two new couples provided great breakfast conversation. One was from a nearby town in the Netherlands. The other was from England/Italy/France.
They were around our age, and conversation flowed through a variety of topics in fluent english.
We left the breakfast table after an hour or so and walked to town to go on a tour of an old brewery. Since it was the weekend, nothing was being produced. Much of the factory was basically preserved for historical reasons anyway, but our elderly host lead us up and down narrow ladders all over the facility and to a good view on the roof. One man fell and gashed his elbow on a metal railing near the barley cooling room.
The forty-five minute tour was interesting enough, and at the end we used our vouchers for free beers. For 8€ each, I though it was worth it.
Enameled door knob.
Liftable pedestrian bridge.
Big enough for 2€ coins.
Happy and sad.
I gotta stop eating shrooms before lunch.
Crowds exiting the convent.
Copper cooling floor.
View from the roof.
After the tour, we ate a delicious and meaty lunch outside. I had steak with pepper sauce with curry soup, salad, and an ample serving of fries. J got a Flemish beef stew.
For dessert, we walked to the center of town and ate “plain” Belgian waffles. They were doughy and sweet, with a slight caramelization on the outside.
Tired, we sat in the shade under the bell tower and watched a variety of sweaty people wander by. Then we sat by a canal and watched people on tour boats pass by. A resting labrador at a canal-side window attracted a lot of attention. Some of the tour guides pointed him out like another attraction.
Herald and Dick.
Crowded shopping street full of generic people, goods, and food.
This chill labrador enjoyed watching the canal boats. And the people of the canal boats enjoyed watching him.
We went back to the B&B. As I sat in a plush chair in my underwear by the open window, I spotted a handsome cat.
For dinner, another snack platter with Belgian chocolate for dessert.
Sunday morning, the group at the breakfast table shared another good conversation.
As rain clouds rolled in, we cleared our room and hung out downstairs. The owners of the B&B were back in town from a sailing trip to Denmark, and they quickly got to work getting things in order again.
J and I left our bags and went to find lunch, but the places nearby were expensive, lackluster, or closed. The grocery store closed at noon.
We grabbed our bags and rode the bus to the train station just as the rain began to fall. It was a perfect bookend to our arrival.
An hour long train ride (6€ each) brought us to the massive Brussels-South railway station.
We were still early for our onward train, so we waited for an hour in the lobby of the Eurostar terminal.
For thirty minutes, a very patient employee offered advice and apologies to a persistent but quiet African man that appeared to have a fake USA passport.
An hour before departure, we were able to enter the metal detectors, get stamped out of the Schengen Area, and stamped into the UK. The UK border agent was very thorough with questions, obviously skeptical of our long trip and our intentions in England. He remained friendly though, and I began to love him like a big brother.
We boarded the train and found our seats, backwards facing, with a power outlet. We pulled out of the station and began our high speed trip across the top of Europe and under the sea.