Bruges, Belgium – Luxembourg, and the Belgium Coast 2


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I’ll start off by saying, I LOVE BRUGES! This was our second time in Belgium. Our first trip was several years ago with a blind booking into Brussels. I had just found out I was pregnant, so I spent my time eating chocolate, frites, and painfully watching my husband enjoy some of the best beer in the world. I had always wanted to come back so I could make up for lost beers. Mission accomplished.

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We chose to go to Bruges for our anniversary and after a lot of back and forth regarding the boy, decided to bring him and the babysitter along. I’m not ready to leave him overnight without either of us yet, and although the trip was more expensive than we had originally budgeted for, it was nice to know my son was nearby and in safe hands. That being said…with the perk of being nearby comes the fact that you are still an on-duty parent. My son had an incident very early the first morning which my rock-gut, amazing husband handled most of. I won’t go into details to spare my son future embarrassment, but I am so very thankful for my husband. He deserves a medal and if you are a parent, you don’t need much of an imagination to understand the very few things that may have happened to cause such a stir. Traveling with children and traveling without are two entirely different universes. I only mention this incident to emphasize that parenthood and a weekend away with little ones is not, and will not, always be sunshine and rainbows. I’ll leave it at that.


The Drive

We decided to drive to Bruges after a few recommendations from others who claimed it was an “easy drive!”, “straight through!”, “hardly any traffic!” etc… Unfortunately, we did hit traffic and we did hit tolls (about 11 Euro worth). Our six-hour drive turned into about ten. We powered through, but near the end of the haul we were all cramped, whiney, and hungry. The last bit seemed never-ending until we finally saw the “light”, as in our destination being less than a kilometer away after over nine hours in the car. However, construction rerouted us around Bruges and that kilometer took nearly forty-five minutes to tackle. We finally made it into our hotel with fifteen minutes to spare for our anniversary dinner reservation. That’s a win to me.

We made Boblingen our approximate start/end point since it seemed like the most central place to map. Our route is below:

  1. Luxembourg American Cemetery and Patton’s Gravesite.
  2. Bruges, baby!
  3. Blankenberge, Belgium on the way home – I had to see the ocean.
  4. Aachen to see northern Europe’s oldest cathedral.
  5. Bonn, Germany on the way home for lunch – I had to see the cherry blossoms.

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I can advise now that for a quick weekend in Bruges, take a plane to Brussels and/or take a train. However, due to the recent attacks in Belgium, the train and airport stations are still quite delayed and security is in full force. In this instance, driving was probably the best way to get into the country. At any other time, I would suggest avoiding the drive and take other means if your destination is direct to Bruges.


Luxembourg American Cemetery 

This was an absolute must-do for my husband. It was a good three hours from where we started and it made a great spot for a rest and remembrance. The site entrance, parking, and immaculate bathrooms are all free of cost. There is a lot of information, history, and room for my two-year old to run around and explore.

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The cemetery is open daily to the public (including host country holidays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except December 25 and January 1.

Sloping away from the terrace is the cemetery where 5076 service members lie, many of whom lost their lives in the Battle of the Bulge and in the advance to the Rhine River. The cemetery was established on December 29, 1944 by the 609th Quartermaster Company of the U.S. Third Army while Allied Forces were stemming the enemy’s desperate Ardennes Offensive, one of the critical battles of World War II.The city of Luxembourg served as headquarters for Gen. George S. Patton’s U.S. Third Army. Gen. Patton is buried here. Website for more info. 


Bruges. It’s a shithole.

What a shithole, indeed. Thanks to a few friends’ recommendations, we watched the infamous movie In Bruges before we left. Although my husband and I weren’t big fans, we couldn’t stop quoting it at nearly every recognizable spot we came across. So, maybe the film had more of an impact than we thought.

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Everything you’ve probably heard about this city is true. It’s a fairytale town. Bruges is clean, quaint, friendly, and uniquely Belgium. The architecture is unlike anything I’ve seen in Germany or surrounding countries. Canals run through the tourist district and along side of pubs and restaurants giving patrons a great view on a nice day. Ticket booths are located at several stations along the canals and offer 30 minute informative boat rides for 8 Euro per adult. I absolutely recommend doing this. It provides a different prospective of this beautiful city and my son thought going under the bridges, or “tunnels!!” as he exclaimed before each one, was about the coolest thing ever. We saw baby ducklings, swans, hidden cafes, and learned about the city from the animated guide.

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Quintessentially Belgium, the shops consist of lace goods, beer, boutique style fashion, and lots of chocolate. Pubs, restaurants, museums (including a museum of chocolate and frites!), and art venues are numerous and varied. Bikes and scooters zoom by on the roads as horses and carriages clop around the city center. My son enjoyed pointing out “poop!!!” whenever we followed a recent horse path. It’s the little things in life, ya know?

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Bruges is expensive. We tried to get off the beaten track here and there, but apparently we didn’t go far enough. It’s a wonderful place to visit, but much pricier than what we’re used to in Germany. For example, bottled water/soft drinks at a frites stand will run you nearly 4 Euro, a beer will run you 4-6 Euro (beer flights are the way to go!) and entrees at most restaurants seemed to run 16-40 Euro.

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We happened to come on a weekend when it was rainy and in the 40s/50s, so our idea of biking around the town (and possibly to the Netherlands) was quickly dismissed. The well maintained and extensive network of trails looked really inviting and as with most cities in this region, biking is probably the best way to explore the area. Instead we ended up walking around in the intermittent rain while my son happily splashed in the puddles.

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Thankfully, Bruges was not busy or crowded which is exactly what we wanted to avoid. The caveat to that is this trip was taken in mid-April after the recent terror attacks in Brussels, and tourism is down substantially. We met a kind woman and her friendly cat at a local lace and embroidery shop who explained that many of the shops and businesses closed at 5pm since they were only catering to bussed-in tourists from surrounding larger cities. She told us the streets in the summers are typically bustling until the early morning hours with business staying open until 9pm daily (except Sundays). During the weekend we were there, hotels were at half capacity and the people in restaurants and taverns were mostly locals with a few tourists sprinkled in.

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Despite all of that, there was some activity to be found and our sitter discovered a carnival happening by the main train station. She took our son there while we wandered the cobbled streets at our own pace, for once. He had fun playing games, riding rides, and winning toys while we took our time reconnecting, checking out flea markets, and enjoying the beauty of the city. She kept us updated with text message pictures that we oooed and ahhhed over.


Recommendations

Bistro Zwart Huis

We reserved dinner here for our anniversary and it was fantastic!! The food was tasty and the service was exceptionally friendly and attentive which is appreciated since coming from Germany. A bit on the pricier side, but the atmosphere, service, and food were well worth it. Built in 1482, the restaurant has a historic and charming ambiance with a crackling fireplace, stained glass windows, and a hipster swag to it with the minimalist and retro decor. We didn’t catch the live music when we went, but you can check out their website for upcoming events and shows which seem to mostly occur on Sundays.

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My 16 Euro goat cheese salad.

Le Trappiste

We stumbled on this gem which happened to be right on the other side of our hotel. We spotted their sign and extensive beer list on the street which drew us down the cellar stairs into a cozy, large 13th century cellar. The cellar was filled with beer imagery and happy people everywhere. Our kind of spot! On the bar was a stack of printed paper with a list of all of the current beers available to pick for a 10 Euro flight. The flight included five generous samples. The process is simple; shimmy yourself onto a bar seat, table, or wherever you can find a spot. Look through the list, check the five most interesting off and hand it to the bartender. A delicious flight of your choices will be delivered with white chalk identifying which beer is which. Take notes!

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We ended coming back here the second night, too. After bouncing around town to different pubs, this seemed to be the best value in town with a great atmosphere and diverse, ever-changing beer list.

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Cafe Vlissinghe

The title of the “oldest bar in Bruges” is really the only reason we popped in here. It’s right off the canal area and hosts a beautiful garden in the back. The service was friendly and the beer list was fairly decent, but not as extensive as the newer pubs in town. We were seated next to a British/American family who were visiting for the weekend, as well. The atmosphere and history alone are worth checking this spot off. The laid back ambiance encourages conversation and it’s easy to get stuck in good dialog here for a while. They do have a decent food menu, but we didn’t stay to eat. Our British friends ate alongside us and raved about their meals which included the house onion soup and a hearty Belgian potato dish. We did find the menu fun to read through as it has preserved pictures and a story line in English explaining the history of the bar which dates back to 1515. In conclusion, we had a beer in a bar that was over 500 years old. That’s pretty cool.

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2Be-Bar (Beer Wall)

We stumbled across this by accident, a very happy accident. We ordered a flight from here too. Although not as generous as the 10 Euro flight we had at Trappist, this one came with some excellent local cheese, spicy mustard, and light snacks to compliment the beer and coat your stomach a tish.

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The attached store is huge and the selections were overwhelming! We picked up some of the mustard to take home along with a few road beers. If you are looking for something specific as far a Belgium beer goes, this is the place to go. It appeared that they had every single beer ever made in Belgium, and its corresponding glass.

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Nightlife

OK, so we are bar people and like to dance, sing aloud (ok that’s mostly me on that one), and meet randoms. It’s been a while since we’ve had the opportunity to do this, so we took full advantage knowing our sitter was with the boy. We stumbled into a few dance clubs which seemed to be filled with 18-20 year olds, but then found our “home away from home” in a little corner bar. They played loud classic rock and 80s, everyone was singing along, and the beer was cheap. No, I don’t remember the name and I’m sorry I don’t have more of a review of this for you, but I can say that there is a nightlife in Bruges, somewhat. My best advice is to do what we did and wander around and stepping inside wherever looks the most inviting. Everyone we encountered was friendly, laid back, and happy to chat us up.

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Accommodation

We originally booked a small, cheap, no frills room for my husband and I, but as we got closer to the date and decided to bring the sitter and our son with us, that had to change. We discovered a new hotel that had recently re-opened completely refurbished and offered the accommodation we were looking for:

  1. City center location
  2. Connected bedroom
  3. Cheaper than two separate hotel rooms. IMPORTANT.

It was expensive, even with the reopening discount and free welcome drink. The breakfast was expensive at 15 Euro per person, but after spending a weekend in Bruges and seeing how pricy most things were, that may be the going rate. The breakfast included the traditional cold European standard of cheeses, breads, cold cuts, marmalades, and fruit, but also included a hot breakfast side with baked beans, scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage. Nothing worth raving about, but it was on site and easy. We paid for the convenience. The staff was kind and the location was central making hopping in and out of the room easy to do. We were able to find street parking which was free, and therefore saved us the 15 Euro per day parking that the hotel was charging.

The rooms were stylishly decorated and everything was new and clean. The beds were very comfortable and the thick, blackout curtains were immensely appreciated! The only odd thing is that we booked a room with a connected bedroom for the sitter and the baby, but the bathroom was located right next to our bed, in our room. I think from a design aspect, it would make sense to have the bathroom centrally positioned so that either room could use it without having to go into the “master”.

We were in room 315 which had a cute view into some of the other residential and hotel courtyards. We had two small mini-bars, one in our room and one in the hallway. We used those to keep snacks cooled for the boy. There was no restaurant on site and the bar was just a counter with a few bottles that opened only at night. We didn’t have a chance to experience it.

It was a clean, new, centrally located accommodation and it suited our needs. If it was only my husband and I, we probably would have opted for a hostel or a cheaper spot. Here is the website: http://www.aragon.be/en/


Blankenberge, Belgium 

We headed out of Bruges on a beautiful, sunny (but chilly!) Sunday morning. Being the beach girl that I am, I couldn’t leave the country without seeing the shore of the North Sea which was only about 20 minutes from Bruges. I didn’t know what to expect, so I picked a town on the map called Blankenberge at random. What a find!

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The beach reminded me of a typical east coast tourist beach. As a parent, that’s a quite a bit more tempting to me than it used to be. There were several large playgrounds on the sand, a boardwalk, mini golf, arcades, a reptile museum, oodles of beach bars, restaurants, a casino, resort hotels, bike paths, and a lot of live music venues and stages for entertainment. I wasn’t aware such a place existed within driving distance from Stuttgart and based on appearance and facilities alone, I would recommend this as a place to visit if you have children. Absolutely. The prices were much nicer than Bruges, too. We noticed mussels on the menu were priced 5-10 Euro cheaper and drinks were also reduced by a few Euro.

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Leaving here we drove along the farms and canals of the Netherlands and northern Belgium seeing sheep, cows, miniature ponies, and the classic windmills of the region. We drove a few hours to our halfway point in Bonn, strictly for me to see these famous cherry blossom trees I had seen so many pictures of on Pinterest.


Cherry Blossoms in Bonn, Germany

Bonn was a beautiful, charming and old town from what we could see, but very crowded with the droves of tourists arriving to see the same cherry blossoms we were there to see. The blooming period is only about three weeks and those three weeks get busier and busier every year, I assume. Bonn also hosts a Cherry Blossom Festival every year at the peak of bloom which looks like it would be a unique and fun event to experience.

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Since we were only able to drive by a few times, I snapped a few pics (not as good as they could have been had I not been hanging out of a car), and we left the crowded city center to have lunch elsewhere. Bonn is also the birthplace of Beethoven who’s house can still be toured, today.

Beethoven Museum, House, and Other info: http://www.beethoven-haus-bonn.de/sixcms/detail.php?id=&template=portal_en&_sprache=englisch 

Cherry Blossom Festival and Information: http://www.bonn-region.de/overv/cherry-blossom-festival.html


Aachen Cathedral, Aachen Germany

Similar to Bonn, we quickly drove through this town to see the “oldest cathedral in northern Europe”. Whenever we drive anywhere, like typical tourists, if there is something noteworthy on the route, we make it an opportunity to get out, stretch legs, and see something new.

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The town of Aachen is absolutely typical in it’s German charm. Old, half timbered houses, small, winding cobblestone streets, and a massive cathedral that protrudes out of the center and was unfortunately too large to see with our limited time. We had a deadline to meet so a leisurely stroll through town didn’t happen, but we saw enough to know it’s a town we’d take a pit stop at in the future and recommend to folks as a “must see” when driving through.

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Aachen Cathedral UNESCO site: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/3 


We should recover from long road trips for a while after this haul, but we have some more on the calendar for later this spring and summer. Even though it was a long drive, we made it through five countries in a day (which is pretty awesome!) and each stop we made on this trip was worth the layover.

Bruges is wonderful and I highly recommend at least two nights there if you have the chance. If you are lucky enough to have more flexibility in your time schedule and decide to drive, make sure you check alternative routes to see something new along the way. Europe is full of exciting surprises waiting right off the autobahn. Oh, and beer. Drive because you can take home more beer. 🙂

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