Easily hopping on a train from our flight from Brussels Airport, our direct Brussels to Bruges route lasted less than 90 minutes. It was a rainy day and given our level of exhaustion, we decided to grab a taxi at the train station in Bruges rather than walk or take the bus (plus we didn’t have any Euros yet, nor did we have a SIM card or Wi-Fi to purchase digital bus tickets). That said, most of the major train stations across Belgium had robust and free internet access, we found over the course of our trip. We did bring our TEP wireless device (now acquired by a company called Sapphire) just in case, but never actually ended up using it on this trip. The cab ride was a short 5 minute drive and cost about 10 Euros to whisk us to Hotel de Tuilerieen where we would be spending the next 3 nights. During our Brussels to Bruges travel planning, we decided that it was best to push through Brussels to Bruges on day 1, and make Bruges our larger home base as opposed to Brussels, since we could easily visit Ghent from Bruges and since we expected to prefer Bruges to Brussels. Our plan was to spend three nights in Brussels after Bruges, and we intended on a day trip to Antwerp from there as well. During the planning headache of navigating COVID regulations and Belgian PCR result timelines, I reached out in advance to a hotel representative (since I booked non-refundable) to see whether I could change the date of the reservation or make a modification in any way – the answer was a hard no, which frankly surprised me. I thought even non-refundable had a little bit of humanity to it in these times.
Since Air Canada buggered all of our flights, we reached the hotel well after 3PM and the room was ready for us, having completed the online check-in in advance. I was not sure whether the hotel would hassle us at all about our reservation due to the previous outreach about the modification. I was also not 100% sure whether or not the reservation was automatically cancelled given this interaction since I expressed significant uncertainty that we wouldn’t make the visit and that I’d prefer to cancel if a refund was offered; luckily, this appeared to be water under the bridge and there was no hassle at tall. We found the front desk to be friendly and accommodating throughout the stay, although firm in their policies. Over time we realized this outlook was cultural.
Once in our room, which was lovely by the way, we took a healthy nap.
Upon waking, we still did not have our COVID test results from the airport and were debating whether we would be able to take a walk and grab a bite to eat. We did have a negative test from Denver just two days before, and the chances of being contagious from that time until now was low given what we thought we knew about the gestation period. There was very little guidance around it online, so we decided to venture out, masked of course. We had to eat, after all, and the hotel wouldn’t do room service.
Prior to dinner, we spent some time in the hotel bar area, which was festively decorated and super cozy. The word to describe it (as well as Bruges in general) is definitely “hygge”.
Walking around at night was magical, and we highly recommend making this a feature every night pre or post-dinner. Not only did it help work off the heavy dinners, but it provided another perspective to the city as well as leaning in to that fairy-tale aspect. We loved the festive lights throughout the squares we traversed.
The front-desk recommended a few non-touristy restaurant squares to visit for dinner, and after some deliberation and enjoying the festive atmosphere outdoors, we decided on a simple quick serve beers and burger place called Ellis, a small chain in Belgium. The meal hit the spot, was fast, and also minimized our interactions with other humans. As expected, the beers were excellent! We did have to show our US vaccine card upon entry, and since we didn’t yet have the COVID Safe Belgian app (our hotel in Bruges never even mentioned it, and we only found out about it in Brussels), we did offer and eventually perfected some explanation on how to interpret the card. For example, dates being backwards relative to Europe required some coaching, and everyone was continually surprised that we already had our booster. Our method, paper, was so uncivilized compared to the digital vaccine passports available throughout the EU. Only after we returned to Colorado in December were digital vaccine passes being rolled out by our state – and Colorado was a relative leader in this regard.
Not pictured here was a simple and efficiently served dinner of two specialty burgers and fries, using an online ordering system which delivered beer to your table in less than a minute. We certainly didn’t go crazy with beer tonight, but as you can see the initial foray was productive!
After another small walk, we wound up behind the Gruuthusemuseum in a courtyard featuring the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Back at the hotel, we stayed up until 11PM or so (still no COVID test results), and then had a full night’s rest, well-earned after the longer than expected journey. The bed was big and comfortable, and the room was dark and quiet. We couldn’t ask for more.