One of the best parts of living in Germany is being able to travel to other countries. We are within driving distance to several very cool places. Three hours to Paris, 5 hours to Prague, 5 hours to Bruges, and hours from Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria and Italy. I’m so grateful we have the opportunity to visit and experience different cultures.
Over Labor Day weekend my mom was in town and we decided to stay in Bruges, Belgium. We visited Bruges back in March, but it was freezing and I was 7 months pregnant. Bruges is often referred to as “The Venice of the North” because of the canals throughout the city. With the cobblestone streets and old buildings it’s a very quaint and picturesque town.
What we didn’t know last time we were in Bruges was the beach is only an extra 15 min away! So we booked a room in Bruges for 2 nights and spent an entire day in Oostende, a charming coastal town along the North Sea. Trying to find a hotel room for 4 people and a baby is challenging in Europe. In the States you can request a room with 2 queen beds or one king. And generally speaking most hotels have the same types of amenities (parking on site, room service, choice of beds, private shower/bath, etc).
In Europe you have to read the fine print. Most rooms are made up of 2 single beds or one double bed (which btw is just two twin size mattresses pushed together). I would find a hotel that had 2 double beds, was free for kids, had a great location and reviews, but no elevator. Another thing to look for is parking on site if you drive to your destination. Normally it won’t be a big deal for us because we can share beds, but since my mom was with us it was a bit more challenging. I used booking.com because people give detailed reviews. I ended up booking at The Aragon Hotel and our room was a 2 bedroom apartment with a kitchen located in the center of town. Location and hospitality was 10 out of 10. Cleanliness I would give a 7. Overall I’d recommend it.
Normally it would be a 5 hour drive, but with two crazies with us everything takes longer and it took us 6 hours to get there. There is an Esso gas station in Aachen, Germany right before the border so we filled up on gas there, did a potty break and were on our way. We drove through The Netherlands for about 15 min. and that prompted a debate as to whether The Netherlands is the country or if Holland was the country. Clearly geography class served a purpose. Technically The Netherlands is the name of the country, not Holland. Short history lesson-
Holland refers specifically to two provinces in the central-west Netherlands, North Holland and South Holland, which still encompass the largest cities in the Netherlands. Although Holland is considered by many the “official” unofficial name for the country of the Netherlands, some Netherlanders take offense at its usage. Always learning something new.
After arriving at our hotel and checking in we were hungry and ready for a cold Belgian beer. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but Belgian beer is just so good I can’t help myself.
So far my favorite is Leffe Bruin. Though the beer is superb,the food in Belgium isn’t my favorite. Mussels, rabbit and escargot are traditional of the region. Variety isn’t much of an option, though there were enough Italian restaurants to get us through. And there is a Chinese restaurant close to the Church if Our Lady that isn’t bad.
Here is a list of my favorite things to do while in Bruges:
1. Drink a beer in the Market Square
The Market Square (Grote Markt) is the heart of medieval Bruges. In the center of the square is a statue celebrating the heroes, Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninc, of the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302 when a French Belgium was forced to recognize the Flemish emancipation.
The Provincial Court is one of my favorite architectural buildings I’ve seen so far in Europe. Built in the neo-gothic style this captivating building indicates the change that took place in Bruges architecture during the 19th century.
Adjacent to the Provincial court is the Belfry tower and on the east side are charming hotels with various restaurants on the ground level. The history and sound of multi language conversations in the background make for a wonderful ambience to enjoy a yummy Belgian beer and people watch.
2. Visit the Belfry Tower
The Belfry Tower (Belfort) was built in 1220, with additions in 1240 and reconstruction after it burned in 1280, 1491, and 1781.
The final touch was a stone parapet added to the roof in 1821. The building served as a bell tower, watchtower, and market during the thirteenth century when Bruges was coming up as a prominent center of the Flemish cloth industry. Standing 83 meters high it is well worth the 366-step climb to view the entire city.
3. Stop in the various chocolate shops
I love chocolate. Before I knew anything about Belgium, I knew Belgian chocolate was my favorite. The flavor is pure and succulent. There are so many different varieties like mojito chocolate truffles, pecan cream filled chocolates, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, chocolate sauces, chocolate suckers and so much more. Most of the shops don’t add preservatives to their chocolates so there is a 2-6 week period in which to consume it. Unless you’re me, then it’s usually gone within a few hours.
4. Visit the Church of Our Lady
Churches seem to be a dime a dozen in Europe. There are so many and even though they are all beautiful they all start to look the same. However each has its own history and story. In Bruges the Church of Our Lady houses the only sculpture by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime. It was bought by the Mouscron family and given to the Church of Our Lady. It’s really cool to see such a famous statue made by one of the greatest artists to ever live. To be that close to something so old and historical is just a neat experience.
And if you don’t have little ones to disrupt the peace, then take a boat ride too. It’s a very romantic and unique way to see the city. And there’s something about water that makes everything more pretty and calm.
6. Eat waffles
7. Drive to Oostende
It’s a short 15 min drive from Bruges and is such a cute little town. Just being near the water is enough to make me happy. We laid on the beach for a few hours, drank a beer on the boardwalk, had ice cream and all was good and well in life. It’s a peaceful place and great for people watching.
Bruges and Ostende is a perfect weekend getaway. Next time we go I think we’ll add on another night and drive to Amsterdam which is 3 hours from Bruges.