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Traveling in Europe: Bruges

Europe 2011: Bruges

Clicking on the above picture will take you to the web album.

Bruges (Brugge) was by far my favorite of the three places, including Antwerp and Ghent, which I visited in Belgium. I actually took the tram or bus from Ghent to Bruges, a fairly short trip. The weather was perfect and quite warm and while I found the many brick buildings of Bruges and the canals to be particularly picturesque the smell wafting out of the sewers was fetid. Luckily, within a few feet the stink would dissipate.

I think I counted at least a dozen chocolate shops in the town center, but of course by the end of the day when I wanted to buy some I couldn’t find my way back or find any. I’m notoriously directionally challenged and old medieval lanes and streets tend to wend their way here and there and around buildings and canals. Given that, the area wasn’t large and I could always find my way back with a bit of exploration.

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Brugge canals have building buttressing the water and red trim to compliment the blue of the sky.

Belgium doesn’t have a museum/gallery pass like Holland does. However there was a day pass for several museums and galleries and even for a day trip it saved me money. It’s always good to ask at the train stations, tourist centers or the first gallery you go to (as I did in Brugge) if such a thing exists. My pass was for three days but at 15 Euros even for one day, I saved money.  Arenthuis is an 18th century mansion that housed contemporary art and works but the Bruges artist Frank Brangwyn. His paintings were bold and colorful and I quite enjoyed the style. He had also designed furniture and other items.

Bruggemuseum is actually a collection of historic buildings. I wandered into some of them and missed others. It was only one day after all and many things close at 5 pm including shops.  One of my favorites was the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a small chapel up on the second floor of a gothic building. It was beautiful both in simplicity and elaborateness. A gothic cathedral, it was small, with vaulted wood ceilings and every inch of wall and ceiling painted in patterns and colors. I loved it. It had such a great sense of peace as well. Somewhere, tucked away is a reliquary with an old rag supposedly covered in the blood of Christ.

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Details of the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Every inch of the interior was painted.

Because I will still battling travel ills and a cold I got started later in the day and wandered the streets, missing some of the historical buildings. In a way, after seeing so many churches over two weeks it was fine to miss a few. However, if I hadn’t needed to get to Brighton for the British Fantasy convention I would have stayed an extra day to explore Brugge longer.

By dusk I was trying to find a restaurant to eat at but they were tucked away on different streets so it took me a bit to find one. The place I entered was packed, with warm brick walls and a sweating owner trying to keep everyone seated. I don’t remember its name but I had begun to learn that the portions were quite large in Belgium so I ordered an appetizer and dessert, with a couple of glasses of wine. Beside me this couple had ordered mussels and the very large metal mixing bowl they threw their shells into was at least 16-20 inches across. My meal filled me nicely.

Brugges, Bruge, Belgium, history, travel, Flanders, medievalI was in Brugge at the end of September, as evidenced by the turning leaves with the weather at about 25-27 degrees, unusually warm for that time of year. The night came on early and I headed back to Ghent where I would leave for Calais the next day.

 

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Travel Tips for Amsterdam

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Amsterdam canal by phault: Flickr http://www.flickr.com/people/pjh/

I’m getting ready to travel to the Netherlands and Belgium in about a month’s time. There is actually a fair amount to do, check and get beforehand. Because I’m traveling alone, there are a few other considerations to take into account.

When I traveled to Ireland a few years back I went with my sister. We rented a car, drove as far as we could each day and then as the sun was dipping below the horizon we’d drive into the nearest town, have a drink at a pub and ask them to recommend a B&B. It worked well 90% of the time. We were off season (the end of Sept.) and the towns we stayed in were not the larger cities. That’s why in Kilkenny, a college town, it almost didn’t work. It was a Saturday night and full of party people. It took three tries but we did find a B&B.

So I thought I could do the same thing as I traveled to the Netherlands. I land in London first and as I always do I like to book my first and last nights so that I know that I’m set. I find that Trip Advisor though you have to look at more than a few reviews to get a sense of place. But I will then search elsewhere for rooms, hotels, B&Bs or hostels and check their own sites as well.

As I did the preliminary research for Amsterdam I was a bit shocked at the price of any lodging. A quick look into Belgium showed it to be much the same. My sister and I got a B&B for an average of 25-50 Euros, which equaled between $$35-$60 CAD. Traveling with someone can definitely cut the rate down but here I was looking at hostels, sharing for 50 Euros a night. Yes, there are cheaper places but it’s a fine line to find something that is cheap enough, fits your needs and is clean and pleasant enough. The reviews fit one or the other criteria, but not both.

So I started looking farther afield, googling things like B&Bs Amsterdam, and cheap lodging Amsterdam. This turned up a few more sites. Bed and Breakfast Netherlands lists a lot of actual homes used as B&Bs that you might not find on Trip Advisor. It also breaks the cost down to a single person price. I haven’t yet tried it though.  Couch Surfing can also work and I’ll be trying it for the first time though I’ve already hosted a few people. You don’t have to reciprocate in hosting but it helps for references. I’m looking forward to meeting some of the people who live in these cities. It’s the best way to know a culture. Note that during the high months, Amsterdam hosts can get as many as 10-20 requests a day. It’s one of Europe‘s hotspots and a mecca for the gay crowd. I didn’t realize all this and even though I’m going at the end of Sept. I’m glad I started early. I’ve spent quite a few hours (probably 24-30) just searching out possible accommodations for Amsterdam. I’m not going to book every night everywhere because I don’t know where I’ll go but I now have an idea of what it could possibly cost me (my whole budget). My stay in London is coming in at $120 for two nights at a B&B and that’s a good price.

Know that many Dutch homes are narrow and tall, with very steep stairs. it’s part of their history where land was eked out from the sea so up was the way to go. Amsterdam is of course more expensive than some of the other towns and there are such designations in some of the travel guides as “stoner hotels.” Yes, smoking pot is allowed in some if not all establishments.

Again, money is interesting and it’s looking like traveler’s checks are becoming too outmoded, and that most places won’t take them or will charge an exorbitant fee for cashing them. As well, many Dutch hotels or B&Bs only accept cash because credit card charges eat up their profits so they just don’t use them. Once I’m on the road, I’m sure my experiences will differ some and I’ll report on that. But the best advice for traveling to Europe is check ahead of time on the type of lodging you want and whether you can afford it. I’m glad I did and I’ll be using several options.

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