One month ago, the British Consulate gave me back my passport and inside was glued a proper UK Visa, allowing me to travel freely in and out of England. Hurrah!
Free from worries about grey areas in immigration, I started planning our spring travel. First up: Bruges, or Brugge as the Belgians spell it. Bruges is a small, romantic town one hour from Brussels, known for its medieval buildings, chocolate, beer and touristy boat rides. It's also quite well known thanks to a 2008 film titled "In Bruges" starring Ralph Fiennes and Colin Farrell.
Mid-March is a great time to visit Bruges, since all there is to do is drink beer and eat chocolate, and it's not like there's a beach nearby. Tickets to Bruges aren't cheap though; we searched two weeks prior to travel and found tickets for £200pp. While I'm usually wary of packaged anything, we found a great hotel + train combo on Eurostar including 2 nights in a hotel and 2 round trip train tickets for £500. £250 each for a weekend in Bruges? Let's go!
We left work early on Friday and arrived by dinner time to the Best Western Acacia. While I'm usually wary of hotel chains, this came with our package deal and turned out to be perfect; it was steps from the main square "markt" and equipped with a pool, sauna, WiFi and 28-year old African Grey parrot named Coco. (After dinner, Tom got a big kick out of playing parrot videos to Coco on YouTube.)
A friend told me that Bruges is known for its chocolate boobs. I found loads of chocolate boobs in the first shop we stumbled upon. While there are literally hundreds of chocolate shops in Bruges, this was the only one I found with boobs. After picking up presents for our office mates, we checked out Bruges' infamous beer wall, with quotes from Benjamin Franklin, Plato and the one and only Homer Simpson.
I booked us a lunch reservation at Park Restaurant, just off Astrid park, and about a 10-minute walk from our hotel. (Almost everything in Bruges is a 10-minute walk). Sitting down for what we knew would be a treat, we both ordered off the limited set lunch menu. I ordered the tomato carrot soup to start followed by the salmon entree. Tom ordered scallops baked in cheese followed by the Dover sole. Both entrees came with potato soufflé. We chased this all down with two glasses of the house white wine, a Viognier blend. The food, the service, the ambiance -- everything was truly excellent.
Tomato and Carrot Soup
Salmon Entree with those little shrimps that found their way into almost every dish in Bruges
For dessert, I ordered the chocolate mousse, which was served in a champagne flute like all desserts should be served. Now, I can't stop thinking about chocolate mousse and I'm confused why this hasn't always been my go-to dessert. (Except for the fact that 1 cup of chocolate mousse has 40% of your daily value of fat!) Today, I found a few healthy chocolate mousse recipes that I will give a go when I'm ready to eat dessert again.
We digested lunch on a boat ride around Bruges. There are three or four different boat companies in Bruges, but they are all very much the same. Ours lasted 35 minutes and was well worth it for € 8. We passed by an 800-year old hospital and the 2nd tallest brick building in the world (our tour guide didn't tell us what was #1). We also got a bit of modern real estate knowledge dropped on us. For a massive, fancy flat on the water in Bruges, you can expect to shell out € 2 million to own or € 1,000 per month in rent.
In need of a bit of exercise, we decided to climb the Bell Tower, or Belfort in Belgian, which includes 366 steps. My legs are still sore a day later from racing up to the top but it was well worth it for a very windy and beautiful view of our medieval city.
To warm up, we spent the early evening in the pool, sauna and bathtub. After a bit of exciting news (fingers crossed!), I felt like getting dolled up and playing with fun photo filters (Picfx mostly).
We went out for drinks before dinner, and I chose a girly Belgian beer, a cherry Bella Vue coming in at 4.3%, which is quite low for most Belgian brews. For dinner, we crossed the street for our booking at Brassiere Raymond, which I found on Foursquare thanks to a bit of research from the folks at Fancy Hands. We started with oysters and champagne, naturally.
Following that, we noshed on bread, goat cheese salad and snails, accompanied by a Beaujolais -- a red wine I don't usually order because of Georges Debeuof -- but this one was actually quite good! For mains, Tom tucked into a steak and I had the lobster stew, which was so good! Too stuffed for dessert, we wandered back to our hotel and fell asleep watching movies in bed.
I was also told Bruges is somewhere you don't want to stay more than a night or two, which is true. By Sunday lunch, I had eaten all the fish and potato combos I could stomach and was in need of a big bowl of fresh fruit, steamed spinach and quinoa. The train ride home is 1 hour to Brussels, then another 2 hours back to London. It's a rainy Sunday, we've got bags of delicious chocolate in our suitcases and loads of reading to do on the way back to London. Danku Brugge!
Want more Bruges tips? Check out CBM in Bruges on Foursquare.