During our lovely pancake breakfast, our gracious host – Christopher – assured us that it was just as quick to walk to the train station as to the nearest taxi rank (having advised against calling one). With that in mind we trekked to Gard du Nord, taking in a new part of the city en route, purchased our tickets to Bruges and rushed to get the next train. Relieved to have made it, we climbed onto the carriage that stopped in front of us and sat down. It was a nice carriage and I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t see the ‘1’ on the door denoting the class but looking down the train at the standing room only prospect behind the ‘2’ doors, I was prepared to take our chances rather than have Mum stand for the hour long jouney.
Sure enough, the ticket inspectors came through and kicked out the riff-raff out left, right and centre. The gig was up and as the guard neared us, I was mentally preparing to rough house someone into giving my mum their seat. We ‘fessed up and I actually asked if we could upgrade our tickets. He looked out to the platform at Gard du Midi at the surging crowds and admitted there’d be no seats in second class. He told us to wait there, we dutifully obeyed. As the train pulled out continuing it’s journey with more passengers than seats, he returned to us, gave us a wink and a motion of his hand that let us know we could stay. The other conductor gave a conspiratorial nod and we were on our way to Bruges in style!
My first visit to Bruges was a surprise trip Matthew had arranged for us back in 1999. I’ve been back twice and with each visit, the first person I’ve thought of has been my Mum knowing how much she would love it. Each time, I’ve dreamt of taking her there – today, another dream came true.
We made our way to our B&B where we were met by the lovely Veronique who plied us with maps, guides and so many recommendations that we don’t need to think for ourselves for the remainder of our time here. Our room not yet ready, we dumped our bags and headed for the cafe newly marked on our map where we had actual flat whites (noted as ‘an Australian and New Zealand specialty coffee’) – they weren’t perfect but they were a damn site better than what we’d endured in Brussels.
Revived and excited to show Mum what I’ve been busting for her to see for so many years, I almost skipped up the street faster than her shoes could carry me (yep, still wearing them)! Like a child seeking adulation for a new finger painting, I pointed at the canals “see, see! isn’t it beautiful? don’t you love it?”. Luckily, she did and I was thrilled by her thrills.
Without further adieu, we dove straight into the deep end so to speak with a canal cruise. The weather was perfect and the swans were out in force to keep us company. Verging on sickly-sweet and too-good-to-be-true, Bruges is undeniably a romantic place but even as the memories flooded back, my joy at being here with Mum overwhelmed all else.
It’s also undeniable that Bruges falls into that category of destination that is so touristy that is almost ceases to be authentic, like Prague. But also like Prague, it’s just so incredibly beautiful that it has to be seen and somehow, being cheek to jowl with other tourists doesn’t diminish it’s beauty. If anything, it ensures that it will endure for the revenue it attracts.
Back on land, we meandered through the cobbled streets to the Markt main square, every bit as gorgeous as it Brussels counterpart and through to the Burg, another picturesque square housing in one corner a vial of what is claimed to be Jesus’ blood.
Hungry with glee, we tracked down another ‘x’ marked on on our map to find Brasserie Cambrinus where vegetarian options abound (there were 3) and the beer list is more like a phone book. I had rather unimaginative pasta while Mum was served a hock of ham out of The Flinstones! We aided our digestion with a honey wheat beer for mum and kriek (cherry) variety of Delerium Tremens for me.
With that, we were ready for a nap and admitted defeat. We wandered in the direction of home, stopping intermittently to look in the alternating lace and chocolate shops that seem to make up the entire industry of Bruges. I couldn’t resist buying a small souvenir music box of Bruges that plays ‘Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen’. I don’t think it was intended to be anywhere near as funny as I found it.
It was still too early to just sit in so we took the opportunity to do a load of washing at the ‘Trendy Laundromat’ around the corner from our B&B. With clean clothes in tow, we ascended the four small flights of old, narrow stairs (I promise Mum, just up and down once a day!) to find our super stylish, luxury attic room with private bathroom.
Finally, the early night I’ve been looking forward to, only I had two blog entries to catch up on and its somehow 1.30am again… ah well, as long as Mum’s dreaming of a day like today, I have no complaints.
This is a beautiful, beautiful place. The canals, the buildings, the cobblestones and lace shop, chocolate shop, lace shop, chocolate shop, lace shop, chocolate shop… All the old buildings are utilised for schooling and working offices.
What made me smile today: The conductor on the train who let us sit in first class with our second class tickets and the swans in the canal.