A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bruges is like stepping into a real life Belgian-Flemish masterpiece. We were completely charmed, and could happily have skipped Gent to spend an extra day there - as it was, we had only planned on one night but ended up liking it so much we decided to sacrifice Antwerp for a second night, which was all we could afford time-wise. With, again, a festival on, accommodations were scarce, and a flood of emails sent out the day before in search of something resulted in only two answers. One turned out to not have quite what their website indicated - the private bathroom was, for instance, up a flight of stairs, and for value for money we were unimpressed. As such, although we had already agreed to this (being it was the first answer we received) we requested and, fortunately, were able to get ourselves out of our booking.
Our second option, which had come as a result of a last minute cancellation, landed us at a spot on a lovely quiet street within the old medieval ramparts. We received a spacious and tastefully decorated room which even had a view of the 15th century Jerusalem Church, and a pretty little balcony from which we could also access the common deck. A shared kitchen was an additional welcome surprise, but the best surprise of all? Our accommodations came with free use of bicycles with which to explore the sights, all of which could be found within a 2 kilometre radius. It was really a great way to explore the small old streets, winding past picture postcard sceneries of canals, churches, old buildings, cafes, parks, and even windmills. After all our walking in Paris pedaling was also a welcome relief for tired feet. It was impossible here to feel anything but relaxed, and was just the respite we needed at this point in our trip.
Amongst attractions, we enjoyed going up the Bell Tower for great views, and visiting the Flemish art collection in the Groeninge Museum, as well as the Memling Museum containing his masterpieces. We also chose to do a tour of the de Halve Maan (Half Moon) Brewery, as a result of which I now take back words such as, "watery", "bitter", "filling", etc., that I've previously used to describe beer. With the tour we were given a glass of their Brugse Zot, a goldenblond beer, and their lightest at 6%. We tried also the dark beer, which was sweet, full bodied, and at a whopping 11 percent about as strong as some wines! In the middle at nine percent, is an award winning brew which we never tried there but bought a few home with us - on opening one the other night we decided this deserves to be served in wine glasses, it's that good. As we were surprised to find Belgians drink their beer so strong, our earlier hosts in the Halle B&B had looked stunned upon hearing that in Finland and Canada the average beer is between 4.5% and 5.5%. Likely we were all surprised that these "norms" in our own cultures should be surprising to anyone else.
Also in Bruges we went for dinner at our host's recommendation to a restaurant along one of the canals, where I enjoyed a local specialty I had been anticipating already since Paris: moules et frites - the steamed mussels served in a huge crock pot, and the fries, perfectly Belgian, with mayonnaise on the side. How good even something so simple can be when it's done so well!
Amongst other good things to be said for Belgium - it's easy proximity to other European capitals: Paris, for example, is about 1:40 minutes by train. The small size of the country (just two hours to drive across) means also that it can be easily explored within a combined holiday. The familiar lament: if only we had just a little more time.