This post is the start of a new series documenting our travels to a small part of the countries of Belgium & Netherlands in the European Spring of 2023. Small note here – I have skipped writing my Budapest & Desert National Park series to finish this one while it’s still fresh in my mind. Hopefully I will get back to it when I have finished this series.
I had initially planned this trip for April 2020 as my mother had expressed her desire to see the famous Tulip gardens at Keukenhof. So I did the research & planned an itinerary that included Bruges, Delft, Haarlem & Amsterdam with a trip to the Keukenhof (Obviously!). We had booked tickets, had hotel reservations, did our visa formalities & even had our visas in hand. We even had our bags packed! Then it all came crashing down as the pandemic hit in March 2020 & I didn’t leave Mumbai, let alone the country for more than 6 months. Wave after wave followed and we buckled down hoping and praying that it would pass. Thankfully it did! International travel started again with some level of safety in 2022 and though I did trips to Switzerland and Budapest in 2022, I always had this trip with my parents planned for the Spring of 2023. I again did all the bookings this time making it a more relaxed trip with stays in only Bruges and Haarlem and day trips from there as parents energy levels permitted. I hoped there would be no new variant this time. The news outlets were again stoking up the Covid fire with shrill headlines but to my great relief it died down without flaring up and we flew out to Brussels from Mumbai.
We landed in Brussels on a cloudy & rainy morning and straight away boarded the train to Bruges from the airport thanks to the tickets I had already booked online for this journey.
On the train from Brussels airport to Bruges on a rainy April morning
The hour and a half long train journey was uneventful as expected and we reached Bruges station with the sky still looking ominous but no rain! I went and bought the 3 day pass for the De Lijn public transport company that runs the public transportation in Bruges as well as Ghent and Antwerp which we intended to visit. With passes in hand we boarded the bus that took us to the Centrum / Old town in Bruges. We went to our hotel Duc de Bourgogne which I had booked since it was right at Vismarkt close to everything. We had reached at 11 am & I knew the rooms won’t be ready. The check in time was 3 pm and I expected a gruff ” Come back at 3!” , instead the guy at the reception surprised me by saying that the rooms would be available in a couple of hours. So we put our luggage in the storage and left to see the area around the hotel itself.
The Canal behind our Hotel gives us our first look at the simple beauty of Bruges
By now the weather Gods had decided to be a little kind on us and sun started peeping out from behind the clouds and there started to appear more blue patches in the sky. It was still biting cold especially for people who had just come from hot and muggy Mumbai!
Parents posing in the sunshine at Bruges
We then walked towards the city hall through a narrow lane which had a decorated corridor passing between two buildings of the city hall that reminded me of the “Bridge of Sighs” in Venice.
The narrow Blinde Ezelstraat that joins the city hall square to the Vismarkt (Fish Market) square
As we entered the City Hall square the famous bell tower came into view and I had to take a photo with the dark clouds overhead. I came to realise the fickle nature of the weather here as on one side the sky was filled with dark clouds that looked like they would burst open any second and you turned around the other side was blue skies!
Dark skies on one side of the City Hall square with the bell tower in the background
The other side with blue skies and the city hall on the right
We then followed the crowds down the Bridelstraat to the main square of Bruges , the Grote Markt / Great Market square. I knew that Bruges would be crowded at this time as all the sites are located in a small area. At the same time most people at this time are day trippers from Brussels and beyond. The only way to enjoy Bruges was to get out and about before the day tripping hordes arrived and again after they left. I would do that every day for the 4 days I was in Bruges but that is story for another post, for now we waded through the crowds till our noses made us stop abruptly! It was the divine smell of fresh Waffles being made and we stopped to buy our first Belgian waffle and hot chocolate in Belgium.
Wading through the mid day crowds in Brussels to get to Grote Markt square
The Chez Albert waffles were famous but we didn’t need directions to get us there our noses did the job! We would eat a waffle here every day and even writing about it now gets my juices going!
With an amazing Chez Albert Waffle topped with strawberries and whipped cream
With that unscheduled waffle stop done, we resumed our walk towards Grote Markt . As expected the square was teeming with people but you could see what the fuss was about – The dominant bell tower at one end and a huge square surrounded by pretty houses all around. Me & the better half would climb the 366 steps of the bell tower on a later date!
The bell tower dominates the square
The statue of Flemish freedom fighters Breydel & de Connick with pretty houses all around
We then decided to do the ultimate touristy thing and have lunch at one of the restaurants on the square itself. It’s always a given that these restaurants will have overpriced food but it is an experience that I always do just for the view. Me and dad also had the first of the many Belgian beers we would have in Bruges. The beer was excellent & surprisingly the food was good too and the weather held up for us to enjoy an outdoor meal!
Having our first meal out on Grote Markt in Bruges
With our tummies satiated we returned back to the hotel to rest our legs for some time and catch up on some sleep. Our rooms were ready and we carried our luggage up the steep stairs to our rooms. We promptly dropped off to sleep after the mornings exertions and woke up at 4 pm ready to explore another part of Bruges.
The narrow corridors of the Duc de Bourgogne
The long days of late spring meant we still had significant daylight hours left to see the other side of Bruges centre. We stopped to take yet some more photos of the bridge at Vismarkt before moving to the other side and reach the corner that is the most famous corner of Bruges. I would return to this place time and again at various times of the day for even more photos but now I started with a photo of the parents at this landmark.
Boat tours ride the canals at Vismarkt
Parents posing at the famous Bruges Canal view
We then walked past the bus stop at Djiver towards the Church of our Lady whose tall spire dominates this part of town. Every corner of Bruges is photogenic – you just have to point your camera & click.
Walking past Djiver towards the Church of Our Lady in the distance
We then took the detour towards the Bonaficius bridge which is yet another pretty small bridge across a canal in Bruges.
Photo from the Bonaficius bridge in Bruges
Happy us on the Bonaficius Bridge – Photo courtesy Anna
We then passed through the pretty garden next to the church and walked towards the St John’s Hospital which is a medieval hospital now converted into a museum. The Church of our Lady has a famous Michelangelo sculpture of Mary with baby Jesus that I wanted to see and would visit on a later date.
The pretty garden next to the Church of our Lady
The archway leading towards the Bonaficius bridge from the other side of the Church
We reached the site of the Sint – Janshospitaal / St John’s Hospital which was closed at the time of our visit for renovations. We took some photos of the pretty canal next to the hospital and started walking towards Begijnhof.
The pretty canal opposite St John’s Hospital
The exterior of the Sint Janshospitaal in Bruges
The Begijnhof is a compound where single religious women & nuns reside in peace since the 17th century. We saw these types of compounds in every city we visited in the region. The atmosphere is always serene and peaceful. The narrow streets of Bruges are beautiful and there is a photo to be taken at every corner and the lane leading towards Begijnhof was no different.
The narrow streets of Bruges with a photo op at every corner
The area around Begijnhof called Minnewater has a resident population of Mute swans and I kicked myself for not carrying my 300mm lens that evening. The mistake wouldn’t be repeated again on this trip and I would return again to have my time with the birds.
The Begijnhof compound with the canal all around populated with Swans
We then crossed the bridge and visited the compound briefly before returning out to spend some more time on the bridge and watch the Swans swim gracefully by.
The bridge to Begijnhof compound
The peaceful and serene Begijnhof compound
Happy us enjoying a pleasant evening at Minnewater
We then stopped at the horse fountain where the horse carriages stop for the horses to have a drink. By now Amma was tired and we decided to stop at a Fries place we had passed for dinner.
Amma takes some rest after a long walk at the horse fountain
The Fritbar turned out to be a great choice as we ordered the fully loaded veggie fries and simple fries for the vegetarians while I devoured a whole portion of fries topped with delicious pulled pork. The ladies had their hot chocolate while we enjoyed our draught beer.
Delicious meal at the Fritbar in Bruges
My huge portion of fries topped with pulled pork
Tummies full and legs rested we resumed our walk back to the hotel. By now the crowds had disappeared and we lingered at the garden near the Bonaficius bridge and took photos with no crowds.
Tulips at the garden near the Bonaficius bridge
The pretty ladies pose at the pretty garden behind the Church of our Lady
The Spire of the Church of our Lady with dramatic evening skies providing a great background
The lack of crowds and no boats on the canals meant that I stopped to take photos almost everywhere – reflection photos of the huge spire in the canal below, at the Nepomucenus bridge, at the famous Bruges bend at Rosary Quay & right before we entered our hotel at Huidenvettersplein .
The Church of our Lady with its reflection in the canal
The deserted streets of Bruges after the day trippers leave town
The Nepomucenus Bridge at dusk
Rosary Quay and the famous Bruges View
Huidenvettersplein with our hotel in the left corner
We then returned to our hotel where we went to the Suite I had booked for the parents. It was a huge room overlooking the Bruges canal bend and fully worth the splurge. We took some photos of the beautiful room and I had my customary post meal coffee with dad using the great espresso machine provided in the room.
The views from the Suite at the Duc de Bourgogne – fully worth it
Posing in the beautifully done Suite at the Duc de Bourgogne
It had been a great start to a long delayed family vacation with a nice walk through the beautiful Old town of Bruges . We hoped the weather would stay dry and sunny since we planned on doing day trips to Ghent and Antwerp if the weather cooperated.
Whether that happened is the story for another post some other time, some other day. I’m happy to be getting a post out so soon after a vacation for a change.
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Beautiful city and so outstanding once the crowds are gone. Every building and street looks charming. Btw that waffle is making my mouth water too
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