Bruges: A Few Things to See, from Medieval Cathedrals to Rickety Windmills to Belgian Art

When it comes to Bruges, my two greatest recommendations would be this: take plenty of time to wander around its too-cute-for words streets and make sure to eat well. But if you are a traveler looking for actual, concrete things to do and see in Bruges, there are plenty of other ways to spend your time, from museums to churches to windmills (of course there are windmills! It’s the cutest town on earth!). Here are a few of the ways I passed my time in Bruges.

Grote Markt:

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Grote Markt is Bruges’s main square, the heart of the city, and probably everyone’s first stop upon arriving in town. The square is lined with colorful, triangular-roofed buildings and is home to the medieval bell tower (dating back to about 1240) and two pretty sweet frites stands. Whether you want to be active and climb up the 366 steps of the belfry or simply relax and people watch, this is the place to be.


Basilica of the Holy Blood:

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Head to Burg Square (a few minutes’ walk from Grote Markt) to find the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a Catholic church built in the 12th-century. The church contains both an upper and a lower chapel, but it is the upper chapel – with its stained glass, gorgeous murals, and golden altar – that people come to marvel at.


Church of Our Lady:

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Pretty much the last thing I would have expected to encounter in Belgium was Michelangelo, yet there he was – or, rather, there his sculpture was – tucked away in the Church of Our Lady in Bruges. On the whole, I found the church’s interior a bit unremarkable (granted, large chunks of it were under construction at the time of my visit), but it’s worth checking out if only to see Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child sculpture. The gardens just outside the church are also lovely.


Chocolate Window Shopping:

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While I only set foot in one chocolate shop while it Bruges – the lovely Dumon – that didn’t mean I couldn’t admire the city’s many, many other chocolate shops. In fact, chocolate “window shopping” is incredibly fun in Bruges, as many stores have super creative – and mouth-watering, naturally – displays in their storefronts.


Begijnhof:

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Bruges’s Begijnhof was built in the 13th-century and was originally home to Beguines, religious women who lived together in semi-monastic communities (but didn’t take any formal religious vows). Today, the complex includes a convent for Benedictine nuns – and is also much-visited by tourists. The area – with its white buildings surrounding a peaceful, serene courtyard – is a lovely addition to any stroll through Bruges.


Groeninge:

I love a good art museum, and the Groeninge definitely fits that bill. The museum moves chronologically through Flemish art, so as you walk through each room, you can see the styles evolving over time. On the day I visited, the Groeninge was also extremely quiet and peaceful, without large crowds gathering around the paintings – and since that seems like a rarity for most major art museums these days, it was certainly something I appreciated.


Stadhuis (Town Hall):

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Bruges’s town hall – located on Burg Square, near the Basilica of the Holy Blood – is also impressive. Buy your ticket and head upstairs to find the Gothic Hall, dating back to the 19th-century and containing some spectacular murals. There are also adjoining exhibits with historical documents and treasures, but I found myself content to primarily stay in the Gothic Hall, soaking up all the gold-leafed gorgeousness.


Windmills:

On my last morning in town, I headed to the outskirts of Bruges to find the four windmills. It was about a twenty minute or so walk from the center of town (many people also choose to bike it), and along the way, I spent a lot of time peeking down the tiny side streets, obsessed with photographing the brick buildings and cobblestone lanes. As for the windmills themselves, they were also worth poking around. While you can climb up some of them for a small entry fee, the steep, rickety staircases freaked me out just a bit (perhaps a lingering effect of climbing similarly treacherous stairs on my De Halve Maan brewery tour), so I was content to admire them from below.


And there you have it: a list, though certainly not exhaustive, of what to do in Bruges. Like I have hinted at before, I happen to believe that anyone could happily spend a trip to Bruges doing little more than eating waffles and drinking local beers, but there are many other options for passing the time if you want to burn a few calories in addition to inevitably consuming them.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 125

The weekly roundup of internet awesome:

  1. Hah: How You Eat on Instagram Vs. How You Eat in Real Life.
  2. For sure: Real Life Disney Princes Would Be Horrible People.
  3. Well done: Kate Davis Covers “All About That Bass” with an Actual Bass.
  4. 73 Questions with Anna Wintour. This is great – and all the other entries in the Vogue interview series are delightful too (see: Sarah Jessica Parker, Olivia Munn, Blake Lively, and Daniel Radcliffe).
  5. “Williams is underloved because, at times, she has been unlovable and, in the end, mostly unrepentant about it—something that might be admired as iconoclastic in a male athlete, but rarely endears women to a wide audience.” This is an interesting read: Serena Williams Is America’s Greatest Athlete.
  6. Love her: J.K. Rowling Had the Perfect Response to a Homophobic Troll on Twitter.
  7. Some inspiration for when it comes time to name the Wi-Fi network at my next place: 50 Funny Wi-Fi Names That Will Make Your Neighbors Smile.
  8. Some clever marketing right here: Amy Dunne of “Gone Girl” Has a Creepy Pinterest Account.
  9. Awww: Little Boy Gives Unknown Girl Foul Ball During Red Sox Game.
  10. I want to plan a trip to the UK and just visit all of these: 21 Absolutely Charming Tea Rooms You Have to Visit Before You Die.

(Image via)

Bruges: A Foodie’s Dream

After returning home from my semester abroad, I got to talking with my dad about Bruges. He had visited Belgium in the ’90s while traveling for work and remarked that he had some of his very best meals in Bruges. To that, I could only nod my head in agreement, because I had noticed it too – Bruges is a city filled with fantastic places to eat.

To some extent, this surprised me. While I knew I would love the street food in Bruges – think waffles topped with whipped cream and strawberries and fries heaped with mayo – I didn’t realize that the restaurant scene would also be so solid. Meals were always something to savor in Bruges, whether they were of the grab-a-waffle-and-go variety or the sit-down restaurant, finer dining type. It is a town tailor-made for eating well (but not for counting calories) if I ever saw one. Here are a few favorite spots.

L’Estaminet:

I chose L’Estaminet for a late dinner on my first night in town primarily out of convenience, as it was located just around the corner from my B&B. Luckily for me, it turned out that the restaurant serves up great food. I tried a kriek, or cherry-flavored beer, which is basically the perfect beer choice for someone with a slight aversion to the stuff (or, if you want to be less charitable about it, a “wimpy choice” in the words of my dad). For my meal, I had a Croque Madame. I Instagrammed my dinner (I mean, obviously), and the caption I included there is the best summary of how much I enjoyed the restaurant: “I’ll say it: this was better than any Croque Madame I’ve ever had in France. #wellplayedbelgium”

Getting there: Park 5, 8000 Bruges, Belgium | +32 50 33 09 16


De Vlaamsche Pot:

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Tucked away on a tiny street not too far from Bruges’s main square, De Vlaamsche Pot was a gem. What I loved most was the overall atmosphere of the restaurant, from the chairs painted bright red to the checkered tablecloths to the leafy, lovely courtyard I was seated in for my meal. The food was also good (which is the most important thing, I suppose); I ordered the chicken vol-au-vent, which was perfect for warming up on a drizzly Bruges day. The prices seemed a bit high, but you do get huge portions – so overall, I would say De Vlaamsche Pot is a fair value for the money.

Getting there: Helmstraat 3, 8000 Bruges, Belgium | + 32 3 250 34 00


Chocolatier Dumon:

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Sampling chocolate is, of course, a must in Bruges. The only problem is: which chocolate shop to choose? I based my pick on the descriptions in my guidebook and wound up at Chocolatier Dumon – and it was a good choice (hashtag thanks, Rick Steves). The selection at Dumon was overwhelming and the chocolates were not labeled, so I decided just to have them put together a mixed box for me. Not only was my collection of chocolates quite cute, it was also tasty. Was it better than my beloved Swiss chocolate? That, my friends, is a delicious toss-up.

Getting there: Eiermarkt 6, 8000 Bruges, Belgium | +32 50 34 62 82


De Hobbit:

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I will admit that I chose De Hobbit primarily because of the Lord of the Rings reference in the restaurant’s name, and not because I had a specific craving for the food there. Nevertheless, while I would not classify this as my favorite meal in Bruges, it was a pretty good one. My chicken skewers and salad were a solid choice for a lighter meal and, as always, fruit-flavored beer did not let me down: I loved my framboise.

Getting there: Kemelstraat 8, 8000 Bruges, Belgium | +32 50 33 55 20


Chez Albert:

Located just off Grote Markt (Bruges’s main square), Chez Albert cooks up waffles smothered with whatever delicious topping you would like. While there were many options (think fruits, nuts, and sauces galore), I went with a classic: chocolate and whipped cream. It was delicious but quite rich; next time around, I would be tempted to try just a plain waffle, which I suspect is plenty yummy on its own.

Getting there: Breidelstraat 16, 8000 Bruges, Belgium


Grote Markt Frites Stands:

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In the shadow of Bruges’s medieval bell tower lie two thoroughly modern developments: french fry stands! Much like the fries in Amsterdam, these guys come drenched in the mayonnaise of your choice. My recommendation? Head to the nearby benches to enjoy your fries and people-watch all the folks passing through the bustling square.

Getting there: Just under the bell tower in Grote Markt


De Koetse:

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My final meal in Bruges was a good one: lunch at De Koetse. I went with the prix fixe lunch: mussels with garlic butter to start, steak with Béarnaise sauce for my main, and a chocolate mousse to finish. I loved it all – particularly the mussels – and, as usual, was a bit overwhelmed with the portion sizes (a trend in Bruges, it seems). I also appreciated the service at the restaurant; every waiter who dropped by my table – and there were a lot of them! – was friendly and efficient.

Getting there: Oude Burg 31, 8000 Bruges, Belgium | +32 50 33 76 80


As I mentioned before, I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed Bruges – and the vibrant food scene was a large part of the city’s appeal. What I found especially wonderful was that you can get delicious stuff whatever your price range may be; there is a range of options from cheap food stands to pricier splurge meals, and all of it is good. If you are looking to eat well, I would classify Bruges as a can’t-miss foodie stop in Europe.

Bruges: Getting Hoppy at De Halve Maan Brewery

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Here’s the thing: I’ve never particularly cared for beer. Over the years, I’ve tried, truly I have, but, inevitably, taking a sip of most beers makes me wrinkle my nose in slight disgust. I know this might sound weird to some, but beer has just never been my thing. Pass the wine, please.

That said, when traveling, I try to eat and drink like the locals do. Often in Europe, this means embracing beer. This is why, despite my aversion to the stuff, I’ve toured the Heineken factory in Amsterdam, sipped a pint of Guinness in Dublin, and enjoyed Radler in a Munich beer garden. It also explains why, in Bruges, I found myself touring the De Halve Maan brewery.

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As we walked through the brewery, our guide explained the beer-making process from start to finish. We learned that De Halve Maan brews four million liters of beer per year and, like other traditional brewers, uses only naturally-preserved hops (industrial brewers, by contrast, will use chemically-preserved hops). We passed by gigantic vats used to store beer during the brewing process and were told that, when workers used to clean them, they had to whistle while they worked – if the whistling stopped, the head brewer knew that the employee had passed out from the strong fumes!

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While we were presented with a lot of factual information, I have to say that I didn’t find the tour boring at all – our guide had a dry, wicked sense of humor, and I found myself frequently amused by her. Some of my favorite quips:

  • After explaining that beer is 80-90% water: “So when your doctor tells you to drink more water, you know what he means.”
  • Noting that hops has traces of cannabis in it: “Belgians drink lots of beer and get a weird look in our eyes, but we don’t care…because we are very hoppy.”
  • Telling us to never complain about being served a frothy beer (about 3cm is the norm in Belgium) because, while you wait for the foam to subside, it gives you “time to build a relationship with your beer.”

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In addition to learning about the beers and hearing many, many more jokes about Belgians and their love for beer, we climbed to the top of the brewery itself. Here, we were treated to gorgeous views of Bruges. Even if you aren’t a big fan of beer, I would say the tour is worth it for the views alone, which are lovely.

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Once we had reached the top of the brewery, the truly treacherous part of the experience began. De Halve Maan, you see, is a very old building (the property dates back to 1564), and this means it has extremely tiny and narrow staircases throughout. Describing them here does not do them justice; these guys were scary! Our guide advised us to climb down them backwards, and as we began our descent, she cheerfully informed us that, “from here on, it is a kind of…survival.” Well alright then.

Luckily, everyone did survive the staircase descent of terror. As our reward, we each got to have a beer of our own, the Brugse Zot. The Brugse Zot is described as a “goldenblond beer with a rich froth and a fruity flavoring.” While the beer wimp in me could have done with a little fruitier of flavoring, I will admit that this was a pretty good beer.

Overall, I found touring the De Halve Maan brewery a worthwhile experience, and would recommend it to beer enthusiasts and beer skeptics alike. Taking the tour only reinforced to me how much Belgians love their beer, and while I will never be on their level, I can concede that the stuff might be growing on me, just a little bit.

Bruges: Canalside Charm

Bruges is one of those places I knew I would love before I even set one Sperry-clad foot in town. I knew I would love the canals, I knew I would love the chocolate and the beer and the waffles, and I knew I would love the windmills – in short, I knew I would love it all. To invoke my all-time favorite movie, I simply knew. I knew the way you know about a good melon.

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Even so, it surprised me just how much I truly loved Bruges. Save Budapest, there was perhaps no city I enjoyed more this semester. There were many reasons to savor Bruges, but one of the major ones was simply that the city was so darn pretty. From the cobblestone streets to the colorful, triangle-roofed houses lining Grote Markt to the canals that wind their way through town, everything seemed straight out of a postcard.

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There was plenty to do and plenty to eat – and more on both of those things later – but it was also a lovely city to simply stroll in without any agenda or specific destination in mind. The canals – tree-lined, with ducks and swans waddling along their riverbanks – were charming and romantic. And when I walked a few blocks away from the center of town, the streets became virtually tourist-free, but no less adorable with their colorful facades, textured bricks, and cobblestone lanes.

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As is probably obvious from the excessive amount of photos here, I thought Bruges was insanely gorgeous and couldn’t resist taking as many snapshots as possible. But in a city so picturesque, can you blame me?

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Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 124

The weekly-ish roundup of things that are awesome:

  1. This list – Every Episode of Friends, Ranked – is pretty accurate, but #4 should be #1, and #3 should be #2.
  2. Yes: Demand a Plan.
  3. I typically find Kerry Washington’s acting skills leave much to be desired, but I just might be wrong. This is wonderful: Kerry Washington Brings Life to Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” Speech.
  4. Hah: Classic First Lines of Novels in Emojis.
  5. “The three dots shown while someone is drafting a message in iMessage is quite possibly the most important source of eternal hope and ultimate letdown in our daily lives”: Bubbles Carry a Lot of Weight.
  6. This guy recreates Tinder profile pics, and it is so wrong, yet so right: Tindafella.
  7. Like I needed more reasons to love Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Every Man Needs to Hear Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Amazing Take on Feminism.
  8. I’m moving to New York in October, so these both seem relevant: 12 New York City Easter Eggs and New York Doesn’t Love You.
  9. Lovely: Mother Takes Inspiring Images of Her Beautiful One-Handed Daughter.
  10. And finally: My Boss Joan Rivers Was Like Nothing You’d Ever Expect and Like Everything You Probably Imagined.

(Image via Some Ecards)

Paris: A Few Places to Visit in Lieu of the Louvre

Paris’s most famous museum, the Louvre, and I have a tortured relationship. On the one hand, I think the scope of the artwork contained within the Louvre’s walls is flat-out amazing, and as an art and history nerd, I love visiting its collections. On the other hand…crowds.

See, the thing is, I like the Louvre in theory, but I don’t actually enjoy visiting it in practice. Yet, despite my frustrations with the museum, I’ve somehow wound up there on each of my previous trips to Paris (see here, here, and here). This time around, I decided I was better off avoiding the stress of squeezing through crowds of people clamoring to see the Mona Lisa. Luckily for me, Paris had plenty of other museums and attractions to fill my days with. In addition to my beloved Rodin Museum, here are a few of the other spots I enjoyed.

Musée de l’Orangerie:

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About five minutes into my visit to the Orangerie Museum, I had this thought: why oh why had I never been here before? Located right next to the Louvre, the Orangerie is a treat – it’s a small, manageable collection, but it is filled with amazing treasures (think Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, and a chorus of other favorites). The bottom level hosts a top-notch gallery of impressionist artwork, but the main level is home to the real stunner: Monet’s Water Lilies, not pictured here because photographs are strictly forbidden. I loved seeing the large paintings in person (and couldn’t help but think of this scene from one of my favorite movies all the while) (if only the museum could’ve been that empty when I visited).

Getting there: Jardin Tuileries, 75001 Paris, France (Métro: Concorde)


Palais Garnier (Paris Opéra):

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I love Europe’s grand opera houses, and I can now add Paris’s Palais Garnier to the list of stunning opera houses I’ve had the pleasure of visiting (along with my other favorites in Budapest and Palermo). While I didn’t have the wardrobe – or the budget, to be honest – to swing an actual opera performance on this trip, exploring the impossibly large interior was still a treat. The opera is decked out to the max, and it was incredible to take it all in: the huge, vaulted ceilings, the ornate stonework, the glittering chandeliers, the beautiful painted frescoes. Ooh la la, indeed.

Getting there: 8 Rue Scribe, 75009 Paris, France (Métro: Opéra or Chaussée d’Antin-La Fayette)


Galeries Lafayette:

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When I’m on vacation, I hate shopping. It always feels like a waste to me: I’d rather spend my money (and time!) on seeing the sites and eating the food, not holed away in a department store buying clothing that I could probably get back home. It might seem odd, then, that Galeries Lafayette – a gigantic, upscale department store – would be on my agenda for Paris.

In fact, I didn’t shop at Galeries Lafayette at all; rather, I came to gawk at the ornate, golden ceiling. The building’s interior is truly stunning, and a quick stop here was well-worth braving the crowds of serious shoppers. Galeries Lafayette was beautiful enough as it was, but I would love to come back someday and see it decorated for Christmas – I can only imagine how awe-inspiring it would be then.

Getting there: 40 Boulevard Haussmann, 75009 Paris, France (Métro: Chaussée d’Antin-La Fayette)


Centre Pompidou:

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Confession: Though Centre Pompidou is home to a museum of modern art, I bought a ticket with no intention of visiting the collection. Nope, I came for only one reason – the view. I had heard that the view from Pompidou was amazing, and it did not disappoint; taking a series of escalators up to the top, I found myself with a great vantage point over the city, with the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur looming in the distance. Perhaps one day I’ll go back for the art, but this time around, I was plenty satisfied with taking in the sweet views.

Getting there: Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France (Métro: Hôtel de Ville)


Canal Saint-Martin:

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Here’s my big takeaway about Canal Saint-Martin: I wish I had had more time to spend there. After grabbing lunch at Jules et Shim, I took a little stroll around the canal, but it would have been nice to linger longer. The area is lovely, and in the summertime, the Canal seems like a perfect spot to relax, hang out, and just soak up Paris. This one definitely goes on my “must revisit” list for the next time I’m in town.

Getting there: 10th arrondissement (Métro: Jacques Bonsergent)


Love Locks on Pont de l’Archevêché:

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Okay, okay – I realize this spot is just as crawling with tourists as the Louvre (and I realize that it’s not a great idea to begin with, as the bridge is collapsing), but I always find the Love Locks bridge oddly fascinating. On the one hand, there’s something terribly cheesy about adding a lock to the bridge. On the other, if there’s any place to be unabashedly romantic, it’s probably Paris, and it is pretty interesting to peruse the locks, which tend to range from sentimental and sappy to humorous and bizarre. Plus, it seems that every time I pass over this bridge, I see a couple taking wedding photographs – and I’m not going to lie, I find the the thought of that, getting married in Paris, to be incredibly charming.

Getting there: Located behind Notre Dame (Métro: Maubert-Mutualité)


So, there you have it: a catalog of how I passed my time while in Paris (when I wasn’t eating copious éclairs, of course). I’m sure I will gather up the courage to brave the crowds at the Louvre again one day in the future, but it’s nice to know that in the meanwhile, there’s plenty else to do in the city.