|Bruges: Venice of the North|
|Belfort: 13th Century Carillon|
|A 575 year old home|
Bruges, known also as a "Venice of the North" for its 14km of canals, is certainly worth visiting any other day of the year, as well. In fact, the day after the parade, with the crowds thinned out a bit, we were able to view more of the historic architecture, tour the magnificent churches, enjoy a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride around the city, and sample some of the famous Belgium waffles and chocolates. Yumm!!! I also tasted traditional Flemish beef stew and a baked dish made of endives wrapped in ham and cheese (both of which I loved!).
It was amazing to see the houses originally built for poor tradesmen, now beautifully preserved as homes for the wealthy - willing (so I was told my our carriage driver) to pay as much as 200,000 Euros for a 25 square meter home! I would have loved a peek inside. I can't imagine what life must have been like in these homes over 500 years ago!
|Michelangelo's Madonna and Child|
In the Church of Our Lady, you will find one of the few works of Michelangelo outside of Italy: a beautiful sculpture of Madonna and Child: Madonna of Bruges. And the Basilica of the Holy Blood is a magnificent Gothic-style church with a Romanesque chapel beneath it.
There is also a medieval hospital museum, art museums, a diamond museum and a brewery tour that we did not get to on this visit and which I understand are great attractions. Good enough reason for me to plan another visit soon! Oh, and I must pick up more of the delicious chocolates I brought back from Stephan Dumon!
Haeneveld Hotel and Restaurant located in Jabbeke, 10 km outside Bruges. Here we booked the last three available rooms for our family of eight (the grandparents were traveling with my husband and me, and our four kids). I had to write to the proprietor ahead of our visit to ensure that we could have two extra beds put into one of the three double rooms we reserved. (For my American readers, most European hotel rooms only accommodate two people and rarely have space for extra beds). The proprietor wrote back promptly, happy to accommodate the request. We corresponded by writing in English and when we arrived, she also spoke perfect German - as did everyone we encountered in Belgium (Dutch is the official language of Flanders, but everyone seemed fluent in English and German and almost all restaurant menus were in at least 4 languages).
When we arrived at Haeneveld, the lobby and restaurant were beautifully lit with many candles. Dishes of chocolates awaited us on the counter and in our rooms (and gummy bears, too :) ). The hotel offers eight guest rooms above the restaurant/banquet facilities of this renovated farm. A generous breakfast buffet is included. All our rooms had amenities more typical of a larger chain hotel than a country bed and breakfast: stocked mini-fridges, complimentary water, bath robes, hair dryers, and little touches like nail files and sewing kits. There was even a shoe polish machine in the lobby area and a table of books and magazines to borrow! The furniture was dated, but the rooms were very clean and the service was above and beyond!
When we went down for breakfast, we found the owner had brought in and set one of the larger round banquet tables to seat all of our family together. She offered us each tea or coffee, and continued to refill our cups throughout our leisurely meal. She also brought warm milk and hot coco for the kids. She asked us about our visit, where we wanted to go for the day, and offered suggestions for attractions and parking. When we expressed interest in also visiting the beach after dinner, she suggested the best spot for viewing the sunset. And indeed, we tacked on a lovely visit to De Haan - a lovely location on the North Sea about 10 km from the hotel. Even if rooms were available directly in Bruge, I would chose to stay here again. The location between the historic city and the beach is convenient and we felt perfectly at home!
My entire impression of the trip to Belgium is very positive. Everywhere we went in and around Bruges, the people were very friendly and helpful, despite being overwhelmed with tourists. At no point did any service personnel appear irritated or impatient with us - on the contrary, they seemed to enjoy showing off their city and were happy to have us as their guests. This might seem like an obvious attitude for a city that thrives from tourism, but in my experience, there are plenty of places that seem to resent their tourist-based economy rather than embrace it.
Bruges, thank you for your wonderful hospitality - I look forward to visiting again soon!