On our first full day in Bruges, we woke up at a leisurely time and skipped breakfast – and ended up having a lovely day winging it in Bruges, the city of endless nooks and crannies. Since we were still waiting for our test results, we decided to take a long walk in search of a sheep park in the northern edge of the city and see what we could see. The Hof de Jonghe was where we were headed, on our first outing winging it in Bruges.
Bruges turned out to be very easy to navigate and easy to traverse by both foot and bicycle. We noticed right away that the Belgium cycling culture was strong, similar to in The Netherlands. You could follow your way back to the old city center quickly, and whichever way you turn, you can’t go wrong as you’re winging it in Bruges.
The canals dotted the city; coupled with the festive atmosphere, it made for a pleasant morning walk.
Unfortunately, the sheep were not out that day, nor were they in the stable – we assumed they were tucked away for winter as it seemed to be perpetually rainy, windy, and bitterly cold. Since there were no sheep (or at least we were at the spot where sheep used to be), we didn’t bother taking any pictures – otherwise it was just a small, nice park in the city.
After the walk, we found a little lunch spot in a basement with cave-like décor, and no other diners. For a fixed price of 13 Euros pp, we enjoyed a lovely tomato bisque, steaks, and frites (fries). The restaurant was called Curiosa, and it was way better than we expected. The server was very polite, spoke limited English, and said “yes please” whenever she set a plate down in front of us. We enjoyed our meal overall as we were able to get warm and dry in side, and found we would be eating lots of fries in this country. Here in Belgium they were never called French Fries, because fries were actually invented in Belgium and not in France. The misnomer was due to Americans during World War II mistaking the country for France and naming the fries accordingly. A tour guide later commented that this was a forgivable offense, given that the Americans liberated Belgium. Still, the Belgian people were proud of their fries!
During a brief break at the hotel, we finally both received our negative test results (just shy of 24 hours), and breathed a sigh of relief. We made it!
The rain picked up and it got even colder, and sideways. As such we decided to cancel our Free Walking Tour reservation and instead do indoor stuff. We rebooked it for the next morning, where there appeared to be a break in the weather. Instead, we headed to Christmas market briefly since it was opening day, and I picked up a warm wool scarf.
Next, we decided to check out the belfry for a panoramic view of the city. It was a Friday, the weather was terrible, and the city was fairly quiet so we were able to walk right in after purchasing the entry fare for 14 Euros pp. It was healthy 366 step climb up a narrow stairwell where people were coming both ways through, and took us 30 minutes to complete. I had waaaay too much clothing on, including that super warm scarf, for the climb and was pretty drenched in sweat at the top. I was grateful for some of the breaks waiting for other guests to climb down or checking out the small museum displays at each level.
We learned some of the history of the tower as well as a lot about bell making and the art of playing the carillon. There were different tunes for different hours of the day, and Belgium citizens had the right to vote and change the tunes being played after 4 years or so. There were also signals just prior to the hour as well as every 15 minutes to mark the passage of time. This was very important in the Middle Ages cuz no cell phones! The bells would mark the start and end of the workday, as well as many other special events, and there were different bells, small and large, for different purposes. This clock tower was originally erected in the 9th century, and was gradually added to over the years in phases as merchant wealth, the main source of Bruges affluence, increased. At one point it was even the highest point in the city, and we enjoyed the fact this offended the Catholic church. At the top, the reward was a stunning 360 view of the charming city of Bruges.
While the rain continued, we decided to make our next stop the Groeningerhuus, a museum which housed some of the masterworks of Belgian primitive painters Hubert and Jan Van Dyck, as well as contemporaries Rubens and Hans Melning. We only had 90 minutes to view the gallery before it closed at 5PM, which was the perfect amount of time in which to consume snackable art! We marveled at the amount of detail and realism these painters were able to affect, but also observed that certain advanced techniques were missing such as perspective. We also noticed that, while often the main subjects had plenty of detail, faces repeated themselves in lesser characters, and women and children in particular lacked detail or differentiation. There were some very bizarre works of art by Hans Melning that portrayed various scenes of hell, offering a high degree of imagination that we quite enjoyed. Since artists at that time were restricted to paint topics within the bounds of religious mores, creativity often came in by unique avenues.
After the museum, we strolled around and took in the views as it was getting dark, and after a day of winging it in Bruges.
we stopped at Bar De Garre where we discovered Lambic beers. Lambic beers are cider beers derived from fruit, but often less sweet than traditional ciders. While Brendan sampled the Lambics, I had some Chimay and house beer. Belgian beer was by far the most superior beer we had on the trip.
We regrouped and showered back at the hotel, took a nap, and started to think about dinner. We waited a little too long to think about, and several places were interested had already booked up, given that additional COVID restrictions started to land due to the Omicron variant in South Africa, and restaurants limiting their service hours and capacity.
Upon a recommendation and help with the reservation from the hotel front desk, we ended up eating a cozy Belgian place called Restaurant De Koetse. I was already on meat overload from the flights coupled by the burger the night before and the steak for lunch, so I was really wanting some vegetarian. Traditional Belgian cuisine does not present many options for the vegetarian or vegan as everything is made with beef or fish, sometimes chicken and pork. Even the frites are cooked in beef fat. I gravitated to the one Italian dish on the menu, a simple fettuccine with burrata and tomato gravy. Brendan ordered a fish soup followed by cranberry pheasant with potato croquettes. The restaurant also brought us unpeeled mini shrimp which were hard to eat and super fishy. While waiting for our entrees, we did enjoy dropping some eaves on the table next to us, containing a young British couple who struck up conversation with the table next to them. My pasta ended up being the better meal, surprisingly! In fact, it was outstanding. It’s not that I didn’t want to eat Belgian food, the cuisine was just so meat heavy that I preferred to weave in some variety when possible (and it wasn’t always). We were so stuffed, we had to pass on dessert – so after a satisfying meal we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s rest. A day well spent winging it in Bruges!