Thursday, July 17th
After the longest two-hour drive, thanks to stop-and-go traffic, we finally arrived in Bruges!!! I had just seen the movie 'In Bruges' staring Collin Farrell a few days before our trip, so I was extra excited to actually see the places that were in the movie.
I already knew I was going to love Bruges. Some of my favorite places I've visited have been quaint but popular towns, and Bruges fit the bill. Unfortunately, not everyone in our group was going to have the same experience...
We entered the Old Town thru this one-lane gate, and drove straight to Hotel Aragon. (Well, almost straight. We had to drive around a bit before actually finding it.) We had a little apartment next door to our hotel. It was perfect! The tricky part was parking the car. The van we drove, a.k.a, "Madge," is a little girthy and the driveway was narrow; nevertheless, it was close, but she fit. (More on that later.)
We took a 5-minute walk down to Markt. On our way, Liz stubbed her swollen toe on the stroller and it started bleeding. (I'll spare you a picture.) She was a trooper though, and just kept on going!
We stood and admired the buildings. I loved hearing the sounds of bikes whizzing by and horses clopping by.
I love the architecture in Belgium - specifically, gabled houses. These are called "step" gables. I wonder if there's a "clark" gable? :):):)
Our next stop was the Belfry bell tower. Liz stayed in the square with Henley, while Steph and I ran to get in line. It was a good thing we went when we did! We arrived at 4pm and the last entry was at 4:15. We walked up the 366 steps to the top for the bird's eye view. It was pretty spectacular!
The bells chime every 15 minutes, and we were right next to them when they went off! Oy! It was loud!!
Steph's terrified of going up stairs when she can't see the top, but I'm afraid of going downstairs. I don't trust my feet on tiny steps. But we survived!
By the time we got back down, they were no longer admitting people to make the climb. Phew!
As a reward, I bought some french fries, or Flemish fries, from a vendor just outside the Belfry. Fries by the Belfry! They came highly recommended and they didn't disappoint. I ordered them with a creamy paprika dressing on top. It was so good! (...so good that I didn't remember to take a photo! DoH! I'll just have to go back again!)
Next we walked over to the Church of Our Lady.
For some reason, it reminded me of a Mormon temple.
When we arrived, they had just stopped admitting tourists. It was then that we started realizing how early everything closes in Bruges despite the hoards of tourists and the fact that there was daylight for at least 5 more hours!! If I ever move to Bruges, I would let them know about "summer hours." Annnnd ...end rant.
Near the church we saw an entry point to a canal cruise. We enquired about the next available tour. The last English tour was in 15 minutes, so we all fumbled for our wallets while a tour group of 46 arrived behind us. They had prepaid, so they all stood and watched us fumbling for our money. Liz grabbed Henley, and we carried the stroller down a staircase. The tourists paraded by us as we searched for the items Henley could need on the boat. He started to fuss a little as we all climbed in the narrow boat, but we were about to get moving. So no problem right? Wrong! Henley wouldn't have any of it including: the sun, the heat, the noise of the boat, the noise of the booming voice from our driver over the load speaker. It was 30 minutes of listening to a screaming baby. I can only imagine the amount of panic and anxiety going through Liz mind. "I can't calm my child down and I'm trapped on this boat. Sorry, you all paid to listen to my baby scream." Liz handled it the best way any mom could! After trying all of your tricks, you just grin and bare it!
These pictures just bring tears to my eyes.
"Mom, help me! I forgot how to fall asleep!"
We continued on under the shortest bridge in Bruges. The tour guide asked us if we could see the blood stains on the brick. Eeewww. Rick Steves' warns that the tour guides don't give great information, but the tours certainly are scenic!
That was the tower we'd climbed earlier!
It's easy to see why some call Bruges, "The Venice of the North."
This is the most photographed dog in Bruges. He just sits here and watches the boats go by all day long. How cute is he?!
This is the only wooden hotel in Bruges. It's also the location where 'In Bruges' was filmed!! Dah! Collin Farrell was here!
Annnnnnd we finished our tour!
I think Liz heard about 5 minutes of the tour guide, and 25 minutes of screaming baby. We got out and just took a moment to regroup.
...And have a photo shoot!
Henley fell asleep in a matter of minutes after we stepped off the boat and put him in his stroller. Poor guy! Poor mom!!
Liz's only request at that point was to find a baby Zara to do some shopping and to find some frozen yogurt. Those are fairly easy requests, right? The Zara closed right as we arrived.
We walked across the street to the frozen yogurt to discover that it was under construction.
Let's recap Liz's day up to this point:
-She drove through stop-and-go traffic to get to Bruges, while sitting in the sun. (It feels like death) Not to mention, Steph and I were cool and comfy in the shaded part of the car. Ha!
-She stubbed her toe to the point that it bled.
-She waited for Steph and I to walk up and down some stairs while she fed Henley.
-We just missed seeing the Church of Our Lady because their hours are ridiculous.
-She sat through 30 minutes of Henley screaming on a boat, while not being able to escape or sooth him.
-She just wanted to shop and eat some yogurt and couldn't have either! She couldn't catch a break!
At this point, we were trying to figure out what to do with the rest of our day. It was about 6 o'clock. We still had a at least 3 hours of daylight left, but we weren't hungry for dinner yet.
We decided to rent bikes, since that's just about the only thing open in Bruges after 6. Liz couldn't go on the ride because Henley isn't old enough yet, so she decided to take a car trip to the beach.
The bike ride we were about to embark on was a two-hour ride to the town of Damme and back.
There were several windmills along the ride. It's easy to see why so many Belgians love to ride their bikes!
All of the signs pointed to Damme on the right side of the canal, so we took it! Turned out the beautiful line of trees were on the left side. Doh!
It seemed like everyone was whizzing by us, and we were keeping a pretty good pace too!
"Please take more photos," said Steph. Just kidding. She definitely didn't say that. :)
We found the little town of Damme! It was "damme" beautiful and fun!
Who wouldn't want to live here?!
The Damme boat.
The Damme windmill. :) Heehee:) I'll stop now.
I was so grateful to get this view. I had to stop and just soak it in.
...In my happy place!
As those two bikers rode by, I chimed my bell twice. They both turned around and looked at Steph as if she had done it. She just froze and then burst out laughing. Haha! It still makes me laugh thinking about it.
We managed to head down the wrong side of a bike path, but before we could turn around I found these strange looking birds! I think they're a type of duck, but I could definitely be wrong.
Steph and I had the greatest bike ride ever! We were hoping Liz was having a good time at the beach with Henley.
We returned our bikes, and saw Liz just as she was pulling down the street to our hotel. As she tried to re-park she left a little bit of Madge on the side of the hotel garage. Our normally quiet street at that point was flooded with a tour group. They all wanted to see what was happening. Liz rolled down the window and asked if I could tell them to all stop staring. Haha! I don't know why but it made me laugh! I couldn't help buy feel for her. Just add that to the list for the day!
Luckily, it really didn't do too much damage. It just added a nice racing-stripe to the right side of Madge. It looked like others had left their mark on Hotel Aragon previously as well.
Also, Henley slept through the WHOLE thing!! That was a blessing!
After the sun set, Steph stayed at the hotel to watch Henley, while Liz and I searched for a restaurant. We found the 't Zwart Huis restaurant. Liz had a delicious goat cheese salad and I had steak tartar. So yummy! They're one of the better restaurants in Bruges, and we just happened to stumble upon it. That was a relaxing way to end that hectic day.
We walked back through the square to get a few last photos, before we called it a night.
Friday, July 18th
Nothing like starting fresh! Time to brush off our shoulders and give Bruges a second chance! We started off with a delicious breakfast at our hotel, and we were off...
Liz poked around a lace shop, while Steph and I took a few photos. Steph found her own chocolate shop too! Now I need to find mine!!
We tried to follow the beginning part of the Rick Steves' walking tour. We had covered some of it the day before. After walking through the Markt, we strolled over to Burg Square.
We had to peek in the Basilica of the Holy Blood. We entered the lower Chapel first. (mainly because we couldn't find the easy entrance to the upper chapel)
Then we found the doorbell for the upper chapel. We were led down a hall to an elevator. The music that was playing was Chumbawumba's,"I get knocked down." We thought it was pretty appropriate playing in a chapel with Christs blood. "I get knocked down, but I get up again." Didn't Jesus say that? :):):)
We didn't actually see the vile with Christ's blood up close. You have to pay 2 Euro to see it. Lame!
Afterward, we skipped the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Renaissance Hall and City Hall in Burg Square to pass under the Goldfinger family archway. We were led down Blinde-Ezelstraat, which means, "Blind Donkey Street." It's believed that vendors would put blinders on their donkeys to pass over the bridge to the fish market to deliver goods.
This patch of black on the brick was left of the walls in 1960 to show just how grimy the city had been before the cleaning.
This was one of the original iron hinges from the city's south gate.
These bars look slightly unnecessary.
Blind Donkey Bridge!
Henley and Liz
Liz and Steph looked for water color paintings at the Fish Market.
Steph ended up buying a really beautiful postcard from one of the vendors. The woman selling the art was the girlfriend of the artist, Johan Lootens. She told us he couldn't be there that morning because he was out painting.
We moved onto Huidevettersplein on our way back to Our Lady.
The "Postcard Canal View."
I asked Liz if she wanted to take another canal tour...she didn't look amused. :)
We attempted round two of Our Lady. Here's a view of Our Lady's "big buttresses and round apse."
Steph and I paid two Euro to check out the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. Steves' writes, "The delicate statue is somewhat overwhelmed by the ornate Baroque niche it sits in." I would have to agree. Steph and I were wondering why we had paid money to see it. I recently saw the movie 'Monuments Men.' This statue played a fairly large role in that movie, so it helped me appreciate it a little more.
I was almost more surprised and excited to see my last name on the wall of the church!! The DeWulf's are everywhere!
After that somewhat disappointing visit to Our Lady, we somehow managed to take a wrong turn. We had to do a little backtracking to find the Begijnhof garden.
The Begijnhof was a place for widows or single women to work. Now single religious women live in the subsidized housing.
When we walked inside there was an artist hard at work. We looked closer at his painting, and realized it might be the artist that made Steph's postcard! Steph and Liz handed the postcard to me and told me to ask him if he was the artist. I crept up behind him, and held the card out so he could see it if he turned around. Sure enough he turned and did a double take. He said, "Oh, that's mine." Success! He was so kind. He talked to us for about 15 minutes. He gave us all kinds of tips on painting, and told us a little about himself and his artwork. How cool is that?! Steph had to get a photo with him!
We toured the garden for another 5 minutes. I scrambled for my camera as I watched these nuns walking to the chapel. My camera battery ran out just as I snapped this photo! Phew!
As we were leaving the Begijnhof I noticed someone staring at me. Haha!
I also notice this this x-rated gnome on our walk back through a small alley! Or maybe it's called a "xnome."
We finally made it to some shops that were open! My favorite was The Chocolate Line. I must have bought 40 different types of chocolate. They had such unique flavors like: saffron curry, cuban cigar, cilantro, onion, tequila, earl grey and bacon to name a few! The bacon and onion were my favorites.
After a little retail therapy, we got in the car around 2pm and we were off to Liege and then Klausen to visit Kelsey!
This photo to me proves Liz's character. After 10, 351 went wrong the day before she didn't let it hinder her experience in Bruges or on the trip. She left with a smile on her face! (Maybe she was crying a little on the inside, but she didn't show it!)
I loved Bruges! I want to go back and ride a tandem bike all over town with Collin Farrell and laugh about 'In Bruges' over a bucket of mussels. Haha! A girl can dream can't she? :)