Posts Tagged ‘Bruges’


Bruges Markt

Angelina and I like to drive part or all of each trip we take whenever possible. Driving gives us the freedom to move at our own pace, make unscheduled stops, and change our itinerary on the fly.  However, driving in Europe presents additional challenges that we do not encounter with domestic travel. The insurance is pricey plus left-side driving in the UK and Ireland requires a mental driving adjustment as does scooting around endless round-abouts.

That said, we picked up our Hertz mid-size, 4-door sedan in Amsterdam and headed for Bruges in Belgium. We cruised comfortably along the motorway, careful not to exceed the posted speed limit. The penalties for speeding in European countries are harsh and there were speed cameras everywhere we traveled throughout both countries. Crossing the border from Holland into Belgium was anticlimactic, simply a small welcome sign.

After three hours on the road, we arrived in the medieval town of Bruges in the Flemish region in northwest Belgium. We stayed in a hotel on a quiet slip of a lane in the old town that we would never, ever have found without the GPS in the car.


Tea-Rooms around The Markt

We spent three days in Bruges (Brugge in Dutch) which has maintained its quaint character with narrow cobbled streets and  picturesque canals. The historic Markt, market square, is the center of the old town and ringed with stately historic buildings and lots of shops and “tearooms.” The menus in all the tearooms in the Markt were similar, not much different than what we eat at home. But when we strayed away from the tourist areas, venturing down the side streets, we found small eateries that served great Flemish meals — all within walking distance of our hotel. I had no problem finding gluten free choices.

4-Bruges-Restaurant.TearoomOne of my favorite meals was a bowl of chicken stew with roasted potatoes and a fresh salad.


During the day, the streets were packed with visitors but emptied out in early evening. The nights were surprisingly cold (mid-April) and we were glad that we packed jackets and long sleeved shirts.


Speaking of food, Belgian chocolate has an international reputation for quality and now we know why. There was no shortage of chocolateries in Bruges, each shop featuring a wide assortment of chocolate, usually providing samples to taste. And taste we did. We brought a half dozen boxes home and later wished we had brought more.


One afternoon we took a 2-hour walking tour of Bruges, stopping at churches and other points of interest, fully appreciating the extent of the canal system and the role it played in the commercial development of this part of the country. Each bridge over a canal presented a picture-postcard photo opportunity for us and the throng of other visitors that crammed the town each day we were there.


On our second day, we drove an hour to Ypres in Flanders, an area devastated in World War I. The town was completely destroyed by 1919 but has since been re-built to look exactly as it did before the war. This is where the “In Flanders Field Museum” is located and one of our planned stops for the day, The museum was easy to find in the center of Ypres and impressively depicts the horror of WWI in Flanders with a series of extraordinary exhibits. We spent several hours there and the museum alone was well worth the trip.


In Flanders Fields Museum – Ypres, Belgium

Early the following morning, we left Bruges to return to Amsterdam by taking the North Sea route, planning to spend the day exploring the dramatic measures the Dutch have taken to hold back the North Sea. As we crossed the border heading for the Dutch coast, we encountered round-about after round-about during the 90 minute drive, reminiscent of our motoring through the west coast of Ireland. Eventually, we drove through the Western Scheldt Tunnel, a 4-mile long tunnel under an estuary of the North Sea and arrived in Middleburg. We stopped for a quick lunch, got gas (€1.66 per liter/ $7.63 per gallon) and continued our drive toward the North Sea.

11-Dutch-Wind-TurbinesAs we approached the coast, the landscape changed with the mighty North Sea on one side of the highway and Dutch farmland and huge wind turbines on the other. Half of The Netherlands lies below sea level and Dutch history is replete with periodic floods. Late one night in February 1953, a fierce winter storm crashed ashore at high tide breaching dams and dikes and flooded almost a half million acres of fertile farmland — the mother of all floods. While the Dutch quickly repaired the damage, they realized that a stronger system of barriers were necessary to prevent such a re-occurrence.

Out of this disaster came the Delta Project, an incredible series of dams, dikes, levees,  and storm surge barriers designed to hold back a restive North Sea taking 40 years and $13 billion to complete.

10-Driving-Atop-Storm-SurgeOur route took us along the top of one of the storm surge barriers with an exit at Neetltie Jans, an artificial island created as part of the barrier. We parked and walked to the massive barrier and saw 62 steel gates that open and close as needed. The tide was coming in, rapidly rolling and roiling, a sober reminder of the power  of the North Sea.


We continued on to Amsterdam with a great deal of respect for Dutch engineering.

We flew home two days later. Once again our daily routines had paused while we enjoyed a journey to a new and exciting far away place.

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