Another Christmas weekend, this time through the Eurostar tunnel to Belgium early on a Saturday morning for a quick change in Brussels and midday arrival in Bruges.
Bruges is a tourist town. Full of boulangeries, lace makers, chocolatiers and breweries. Everything that is well known in Belgium. It’s famous as the “Venice of the North”, a network of canals and bridges (hence the name “Brugge” which roughly translates to “the bridges”).
A short walk off the crowded train and past the Disney on Ice queues, through the cobbled streets with stereo hits playing 80’s power ballads and we quickly found ourselves in the Markt centre. The Bruges Christmas Markets weren’t quite yet in full swing with only several stalls around the main ice rink. But nonetheless, the decorations were up.
We quickly met up with friends Catherine and Shaun and their friends Kelly and Paul for a walk up the Belfry Tower. With very narrow passageways and constant traffic it took a while to get to the top, but the view was well worth it, helping orient ourselves. Up the tower was a large carillion (drum that plays a mechanical melodies with bells), it was rigged up to with 47 different bells, totalling 28 tonnes in weight (the largest bell is around 5 tonne) and is set to chime a song every 5 minutes.
From here a short walk to the Basilica of the Holy Blood was where we gathered in procession to see the vial containing Jesus blood. It showed up in the 12th century (making it at least 800 years old). The contents were all crystallized, and didn’t look much like blood at all.
An afternoon canal tour by boat allowed us to see more of the area and get amongst the hundreds of white swans. The house facades were built with steps on the roofline – the more steps a house has is supposed to indicate the wealth of the owner.
It wasn’t long before we found a brewery, with De Haalve Moon Brewery, built on a roof, providing beers starting at 7% alch. Met met up with Larissa, Leights, Briar and Peter who were also in town and sought out an expensive meal of Flemish stew and moules (mussels) with frites. The mussels were smaller and had a bit less flavour than those off the rocks in Whitianga, but were good nonetheless.
Following, we found a beer tasting bar, promptly loading up a rack of 12 different beers, including aniseed, wheat, cherry and christmas. All of these were again in the 7-12% range and we all got boozed pretty quickly. Finding a karaoke bar – Leights belted out a rendition of “Are you going to be my girl”, complete with caterpillar dance moves.
The hotel had a bit of a lean to it. You could lie a bottle on its side and watch it roll to the other end without any assistance. Smuggling an extra guest in meant Leights (the gentleman) had to sleep on the floor.
After breakfast of a couple of rolls. Went back around the markets to pick up belgian beers, chocolates, fresh macaroons and other little trinkets. We found chocolate fountain and proceeded to make a mess dipping in marshmallows. Tam started hunting out any shops that were providing free samples before our train back to Brussels.
En route to Brussels a small run of Tam with the ticket conductor left him red faced after a little tantrum! Still muttering under our breaths at the train service we dropped our bags off at Petes to spend a few hours seeing Brussels.
We weren’t disappointed, with the Brussels town centre being really impressive. We found the Pissing Boy, surrounded by tourists while the girls hit the shop to steal some chocolate samples. we also found the lesser known Pissing Girl by the Delirium Bar – famous for having over 2000 types of beer.
The Brussels Christmas Markets were enormous, much like what we saw in Nuremberg. The Ice Rink was packed with skaters and a few showoffs dancing around them. One old man with fluoro gloves was entertaining the children with his interpretive dance moves. Other attractions included a Ferris Wheel and a Giant Inflatable Ice Monster. Down to our last few euro’s we budgeted just enough for some frites and mayo.
After a casual walk back to Eurostar we found a massive line, which with 45mins until boarding closed, wasn’t moving very fast… These trains leave on time! We made it with a couple minutes to spare and got back to London early enough.