Paris Sidetrips: The best of Bruges

Nurse strikes a pose in Markt Square in central Bruges

Last week, I was comparing notes on Bruges with friends at My Real Job.  It put me in the mood to share two posts on this lovely city of beer and canals.

During a month-long Parisian sojurn in 2008, the Experienced Travelers rode the rails to Bruges for an overnight excursion.  The ETs remember Bruges as a city of surprises.  It’s an easy day trip from Paris and highly recommended by the ETs for all the right reasons:  history, food, shopping and walkability.

Our first surprise was learning that rail passes can complicate the simplest journey.  Just like airline frequent flier programs, each train has a finite number of rail pass seats that are often on inconvenient timetables.  Nurse applied her powers of persuasion to a reluctant ticket seller to secure the itinerary we wanted, and she triumphed.

Ring them bells! The 13th century belfry in Markt Square.

Bruges brims with medieval and renaissance architecture, cathedrals and canals that instantly delighted the ETs.  At the center of Bruges is the Markt, dominated by the 13th century belfry with a working carillon. Energetic visitors can take the steps to the top and tell us all about the view.  (If you saw the movie In Bruges, you might think twice about making the climb.)

The Markt is lined with cafes and shops, many selling lace – a Bruges specialty. The ETs spent hours exploring the streets that radiate from the square.  They’re perfect for window shopping and impossible to follow on a map, but who cares – they sell excellent beer.

The ETs made the climb with growing trepidation

Even the most rigorous travel planning occasionally fails, usually in the hotel category.  This was our next Bruges surprise.  We aren’t luxury-seekers, but we uphold the ET standard of clean, comfortable, affordable hostelry.  Our hotel in Bruges was right out of the cinéma vérité tradition where things end badly for the disillusioned lover, in a dingy room with peeling wallpaper.

After a cranky check-in, we climbed the dark, winding stairway. Nurse watched for political assassins.  I hoped that our surroundings might improve with elevation.  Alas, no.  We assessed the single light bulb, broken lamp and thin towels, and reasoned it was worth the time and Found Money to stay put.

Bottoms Up! Bierbrasserie Cambrinus

This egregious disappointment propelled us outside, where we quickly recovered the will to live.  Bruges city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historic architecture. It’s also known for its beer, and the ETs felt honor-bound to find a tall, frosty pint immediately.

It was the work of the divine hand that delivered the next surprise – Birebrasserie Cambrinus near the Markt.  Cambrinus, the King of Beer, hovers on the corner of the building holding a hefty stein.  Surely the ETs can’t go wrong with this happy royal visage guiding their steps.

Quel surprise!  To our eternal joy, this house beer is the absolute best on the planet.  We had a medium-bodied brew with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg – and generously alcoholic. Soon we were signaling for another round and practicing the Belgian national anthem.

A most excellent beef stew cooked with... beer

The menu was seasonal and interesting. I ordered a hearty beef stew that came with applesauce, fried parsley and frites.  My stew was great, but it was Nurse’s meal that brought the next Bruges surprise.

Open ye gates of the ET Gastronomy Court of Honor for Bruges croquettes de crevettes (notice the empty beer - #3 I think...)

We still talk about these croquettes de crevettes de Zeebruges – light croquettes of Trappist monk’s cheese with the tiniest, most flavorful North Sea shrimp. Despite its simplicity, this dish stands shoulder to shoulder with our Gordon Ramsay lunch in the ET Gastronomy Court of Honor.

By the time we finished, the world’s ills were repaired, the future looked promising and the ETs emerged well-disposed toward all.  This proved to be a happy omen for local merchants who warmly welcomed the ETs and American Express for the rest of the afternoon.

Click here to read more about Bruges

Nurse wants to know what's behind the red door

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3 Responses to “Paris Sidetrips: The best of Bruges”

  1. allison Says:

    Julie,
    I can’t tell you how much I enjoy your posts! Every adventure you describe makes me feel like I am right there with you. Love the good humor and optimism in your travels.

    I hope that we can get together again soon. I have missed my friends!

    Allison

  2. Best of Bruges II « Julie's Paris Says:

    […] Julie's Paris Sous le ciel de Paris « Paris Sidetrips: The best of Bruges […]

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