I first went to Bruges almost 10 years ago in the middle of June. I barely remember it except for the beer, the canals and the crappy weather. This time was no different, but luckily the charming streets and cherry beer made up for clouds and rain. Overall, our trip was lovely, we a few very large hiccups along the way, which I wanted to share in case you’re ever stuck in the same situation.
While Bruges is only 3 hour away from Paris, it’s not super simple to get there. If you opt for the cheaper tickets, you have to take 3 different trains, with little time in between. Our trip there was without incident (unlike the one coming back – more on that later). We arrived around midnight and as expected, only a few late night tourist traps were open. What we didn’t expect was to find the biggest rip off we’d ever been in. It all started out fine – a decently clean restaurant with average prices. We sat down and the waiter took our order. I just had a waffle so there wasn’t much he could do there, but when my travel buddy asked for the rabbit dish, the waiter asked if he wanted a salad or vegetables (seems normal – you usually get a side with a meat dish), then he asked if he wanted mushrooms…apple sauce…beets (what?)…and garlic bread. I cut him off at the beets after realizing that probably none of this was part of the actual dish. No worries though, it’s probably only a few extra euros. Then the waiter suggested a “large” local beer, which turned out to be… ONE LITER. That was actually pretty fun. In the end, we ended up with a frozen waffle, dried rabbit, 2 table spoons of apple sauce, rotten vegetables (we sent them back) and mushrooms right out of the can. All for almost €75! So the moral of the story is, never, ever, ever, even if your life depends on it, eat at la Taverne Brugeoise.
After that culinary fiasco, I decided that we desperately needed TripAdvisor and managed to get a lot of really great restaurants and pubs into our trip. Bruges isn’t very big so there’s really not much to do other than eat, drink and take a boat ride. Even though we were only there for the weekend, time seemed to magically stop and we were able to lounge around the canals for hours.
It’s a world heritage site, so there are a lot of tourists in the city center. Luckily, when you go just a few blocks away, there are tons of quiet adorable streets to get lost in. If you head far enough north, you’ll eventually stumble on a few windmills with very lacy wire fencing.
The 500 Year Old Pub
We were looking for a nice non-touristy pub and read about Herberg Vlissinghe in a review online. It’s discreetly located in a small side street and is actually a great place to have a light lunch and a beer. There’s even a friendly pub dog that looks at you pitifully while you eat, hoping to catch some falling food. While there were a few tourists beside us, it was a fairly local establishment. So local in fact, that all of a sudden the pub went quiet and 5 people started talking about its history….in Flemish. By that time we realized that we were the only foreigners and that the way out was right next to the speakers. The audience seemed to really enjoy the presentation and found it quite funny, but we quickly downed our drinks and tried to slide out the door as non-awkwardly as possible.
The Best Restaurant in Bruges
Well, it’s in the top 10, but the others were already booked for the evening. Hoping to avoid another rip off, we did our homework and found a popular restaurant called Reliva in the south part of town. It’s a very cosy and is run by a lovely family. Our waiter was also a sommelier who really enjoyed sharing the history of Belgian wines (there used to be over 1000 vineyards in the Middle Ages, but after a volcano in Indonesia caused a teeny weeny ice age (I know! So crazy, but it’s true, just check wikipedia), there are less than 100 left). The wines were AMAZING and we ended up leaving with a few bottles. Reliva is a regular+vegeterian+vegan restaurant, which sometimes puts me on my guard, but the food here didn’t let me down. So if you’re ever hungry in Bruges, go to Reliva.
Barely Making it Home
Now we come to the end of our trip, which ended with a lot more adrenaline than I could ever imagine. It started out fine; we arrived to the station early and looked for our first train. In normal stations, they show the train and write “cancelled” beside it when it’s been cancelled, but no, not in Bruges. Instead, they put a teeny tiny note at the bottom corner of the screen. Since we don’t read Flemish, it took a while to figure out that maybe something was wrong. After asking 2 very unpleasant and unhelpful people at the info desk, we found out that we would need to take another train and then a bus to get to our 2nd train. We ran to catch it but were doomed to miss it when a few lazy bums decided to stand on the left part of the escalator and block everyone behind them.
When we finally did get the train we needed and hopped on the replacement bus, the driver didn’t quite understand that many people were trying to make a connection for the LAST train of the night. When we finally got to the station it was 15 minutes too late. We overheard a couple speaking French and asked them if they were heading to Paris by any chance. Luckily they were and we were able to split the 30 minute cab ride four ways. Unfortunately, our cab driver didn’t speak much English or French and also didn’t understand that we were in a rush to catch our 3rd train, which also happened to be the last one of the night. Our train was at 10:13 PM. It was 10:09 PM and we were still in the cab. The little blue dot on Google Maps decided to freak out and refuse to tell us how close we were to the station. All of a sudden, we drove up to the entrance, grabbed our bags, threw money (well, handed it over) to our cab driver and ran through the station. We jumped on and the doors literally closed behind us. It was the unluckiest/luckiest night that I’ve had in a long time!
Ok, well, that’s the end of my unusually lengthy story about just one weekend. Here are some photos.