Day 1: The train got into Bruges at about 10:40am after which we started hoofing it the Market in the center of the city that happens every Wednesday and Saturday. When we got there we decided we had enough time to find our hostel and drop off our bags. We were staying at the Bauhaus hostel. Then we went back to the Market in search of some grub. We bought some local berries which we devoured quickly and then went to a stand in search of some Belgium fries (frites). Yes I know that we just wrote about trying the famous Dutch fries but what kind of fair-minded tourists would we be without trying and comparing them both? Of course, between the fries and baguettes we might be strutting around with 10-15 more pounds than when you last saw us. These fries come with many of the same sauce choices. Joe went for the fries covered in a traditional Flemish Beef Stew with beer based sauce and Myra opted for the most unusual veggie burger and fries with cocktail sauce which wasn't what we think of as cocktail sauce - as with most things around here...it was heavy on the mayo with a little whiskey for flavor. Ok, I should mention we are using this as a journal for ourselves so the details might get a little cumbersome so skim through as you see fit.
Next up was to start the Bruge City Walk which covered climbing thousands of steps (ok, I guess it was only hundreds in reality) up the belltower (Belfort) to get us started.
We swung by the City Hall in Burg Square (political center and religious heart of the city) where they were setting up for an outdoor opera (The Barber of Seville). Tons of beautiful canals along the way and then a stop in the Gruuthhuse Museum (mansion turned museum). The place was filled with artifacts and art (at which Joe took time for a quick stop on the bench nearby) and an AWESOME old guillotine that was able to wake him right back up. Probably one of the highlights was the Church of Our Lady which has the only sculpture by Michelangelo to ever leave Italy (Madonna and Child) while he was alive. I cannot stress how incredible this church was. It's amazing how they constructed it so long ago.
I should also mention (mostly to Natalie) that we passed a genuine Belgian pug! Oh I almost forgot...we stopped for a lovely belgian waffle covered in belgian chocolate!!!
We capped off the day with dinner at the restaurant in our hostel where they give you a three beer sampler for free. One of them was a famous Belgian cherry beer. I have to say over the two days we were there we tried 5 Belgian beers (don't worry moms...some were small sampler sizes) and they were all great. So for those of you worried about a Belgian company taking over Budweiser...I'm convinced they might actually make it a beer worth drinking!!
Day 2: We woke up and decided to tour an old windmill near our hostel (used to crush grain back in the day – very cool for a couple of engineers and old farm boy) and then to the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Supposedly they have a phial (housed in a silver tabernacle) that has some of Jesus's blood collected after the crucifixion and given to someone from Bruges in the 13th century for being a brave warrier in defending Jerusalem from the Muslims. They only open the tabernacle every Friday and parade it through town once a year.
Then we rented some bikes and rode through the countryside over to Damme. Just a small, quaint town where we ate baguettes with crab and grey shrimp from the North Sea. In typical Joe and Myra fashion (remembering prying off one bathroom tile resulted in a compete bathroom renovation) we decided to keep going until we got to the North Sea (they have awesome bike paths). We got there about 10.5 miles past Damme. But we loved seeing (and touching of course) the North Sea! Of course then it was time to start the trek back. Also in typical Joe and Myra fashion...we somehow lost track (or they forget to put them up!) of the bike paths sign and ended up in Blakenberge (NOT on our way). In reality it was only a 2 mile detour but we sure whined about it like it was a 17 mile detour. Anyway the trip back was again through the countryside (and a bit of a headwind) and through a cute little town called Lissewege. We finally made it back to Bruges about 6 hours later (5 hours and about 27 miles of biking) and the storm clouds weren't looking good but we still needed a picture to recreate the one we took from our honeymoon when we rented biked to ride down from a volcano in Hawaii. We did it (a bit slower and less flexible now that we're 30) in a small alley in Bruges and then booked it back to the rental place. Yet another detour meant we didn't quite make it there dry. A walk back, a shower, and nice dinner at a spanish restaurant made it all better.
One last night in our smelly and somewhat moldy hostel room (maybe we are too old for this?). We woke up to yet more rain, ate breakfast and were on our way. We had not yet bought any of the traditional Belgian lace so we wanted to walk to the train station rather than take a bus. What a mistake...so if you are one of the ones that gets a souvenir from Belgium....treasure it because we got SOAKED! We made it to the station in the pouring rain about an hour later and quickly hopped on a train to Brussels. We had decided not to stop and keep going to Cologne (aka, Koln) of course now I see and email from my friend Thom saying to definitely stop in Brussels. I guess we'll save it for next time. We had just enough time to change into dry clothes in Brussels and grab a sandwich (both which made us much more pleasant people!). Now we are on a posh International train to Cologne, Germany. Don't worry Don, Gary & Tuba (if you're reading this) we most likely will be coming back to work someday!