Tom and Linda’s 2008 Europe Trip

Bruges, Belgium

Breaking Out the Eurail Passes

The trains in France are a little more difficult than in other countries. They’re pretty much all high-speed trains that require reservations and sometimes a supplementary payment. But it turns out you can generally get your reservation at the station just before the train leaves. It just gives you an assigned seat.

So we headed for Brussels. Our seats faced each other across a little table, and the fare included a “snack,” which was a little sandwich that made a pretty good lunch for us.

Tom snoozed for much of the journey and I propped my feet up in his seat and relaxed. They brought us little Belgian chocolates after the snack. The train was comfortable, almost floated across the ground, and the trip went by pretty fast.

Quick stop in Brussels

When we arrived in Brussels we left our packs in a locker at the station and went out to see the town. Unfortunately, we didn’t really know where we wanted to go, and we found ourselves in the streets of a big city a lot like other big cities, except that there was nothing in English in the newsstands.

We didn’t stay long. Got our bags again and caught a train to Bruges.


The village of Bruges is high on Rick’s list of places to visit. It’s a small town completely full of ornate architecture, cobblestone streets and bicycles.

Over-the-Top Architecture

Before the sea receded (natural silt buildup) Bruges was a very important shipping center for Europe. The merchants grew very rich and spent their fortunes on ornate architecture and having their portraits painted.

They also gave a lot of money to the church, which spent it on much the same things. This drew famous artists and architects from all over Europe.

Famous Art

This little town boasts Michelangelo's “Madonna and Child” sculpture and a lot of works of other famous painters and sculptors.

Cultural Mix

Belgium is an interesting mix of Flemish (Dutch) and French. It’s a 2-hour bicycle ride to cross all the way from Holland to France here. It’s a tiny country that’s famous for lots of things – beer, chocolate, lace, waffles, etc.

Famous Food

Besides the chocolate and waffles and beer, there are mussels and frites (fries).

This was our first meal in town, in one of the cafes lining Markt Square. Choose your frite-dipping sauce - the garlic mayonnaise is really good!

Each beer is served in a glass made especially for it - something we saw in Paris as well.

The Bell Tower

Markt Square is dominated by the bell tower whose carillons play a selection of familiar tunes, all played by a player engine except for special concerts.

Carriage Tours

The carriages gather in the Markt Square to offer tours


This former seaport has a system of canals that is used almost as much as the streets.

The canals are clean now, but once brought disease. That little bay window on the white house was probably once the privy. If it still is, it has plumbing now.

Grand Homes

Views like this are around every corner.

Most of these large buildings are private homes. Because of the town's rich past, it is full of large and ornate houses.


Lace-making by hand is a complicated skill. Here's a little bookmark in process. The wooden bobbins are used to twist the threads into the pattern while the pins hold themin place.


Our first evening in town we stopped into one of the little chocolate shops where they hand-craft chocolates and bought a selection, just pointing them out in the case.

Took them back to the room and shared them one at a time, eating them slowly and savoring each. Interesting and luscious – there’s nothing like them in the US, and nothing close for the price!

B&B Setola

We had to settle for a hotel our first night in Bruges, but for our second and third nights we stayed in the B&B Setola – a very cool room up 2 long flights of stairs, modern furniture in an old stone and rough-timber room.

The room has a king sized bed and a ladder-accessible sleeping loft with another king! The rough Flemish brick is painted white and the bathroom is modern city chic.

As is the kitchenette outside the door where breakfast is set out in the mornings for the guests in the three rooms. Tables are tucked under the slanted roof and the little fridge has coke and beer for cheap and coffee, tea and fruit for free.

This stained glass window is made specifically to mask the roof outside.

Young Classical Buskers

In our first entry into the square in the morning we found buskers – two young girls playing violin and cello, eventually joined by a younger boy and girl on violin as well. They were very good!

Saturday Farmers Market


There was more available than fresh produce and plants! This is quite a portable setup for a half-day market.

Bicycle Tour

We took a guided bicycle tour, a little around town but mostly out into the countryside. We both ended up pretty saddle-sore, but it was a great ride.

The rain threatened, but mostly held off. The area is very bicycle-friendly, and there are places you just can’t go by car.

We rode out almost to Holland, down the canal that Napoleon started to build to reconnect Bruges to the sea. It was never finished, but is used a lot for transportation, lined with trees and bicycle paths and parkland.

We rode to a little ruined town and a windmill, stopped for a coffee and waffle.

They treat waffles kind of like we treat ice cream – it’s an afternoon snack food, not a breakfast thing, and is served with fruit or cream or ice cream or chocolate, or all of these.

Here we are with our fellow cyclists. The others were all from the UK. That's our guide at the head, one of the owners of Pink Bear Bicycle Tours. She had given a private tour for Rick Steves just a few weeks before - seems we're following him around Europe.

Carillon Concert

In the evening we dropped in to the bell tower courtyard for the weekly carillon concert – traditional and modern music arranged by the man who played it.

Inside the Bell Tower

We got up in the morning and climbed the bell tower’s 366 steps to an impressive view of both the town and the carillon itself.

There are interesting stops along the way, so it’s not too bad.

The carillon engine is like a giant player piano with a complicated timing mechanism.



The stairs get steeper and tighter as you go up, with just a stout rode around the center pole to hold on to.

Tower Views

When you finally reach the top, the views are amazing.

The town is such a great mix of ancient and modern: Roofs are tile or steel or glass. Bathrooms are all modern euro-simple style, but rooms are often stone and old timber with the plumbing on the outside of the walls.



We toured some local art museums - mostly what they call Primitives. Lots of religious art and a lot of portraits of local celebrities.


Tom visited the local brewery. I'm not a beer drinker, but the few brews I've found that I like are Belgian.


Walk Around Bruges

It's a pleasant place to walk. The wildlife enjoy the canals as well.

Bruges is a great place and not terribly expensive. Probably better if you stay longer than the three nights we did.

Definite potential for retreat and writing inspiration. Lots of beautiful views – old stone bridges over tree-lined canals, long curved streets leading to steeple-lined squares, lovely sidewalk cafes.

The waffles are light and crunchy, the chocolates luscious, and the beer creamy and hearty.

Tom's Diner

Last evening in town - we just had to go to Tom's Diner. We'd found it among the recommendations left by previous guests of our B&B. The food was very good, but it was a bit of a smoky bar.

We slept long and hard that night, both feeling a bit sinusy. Got up early, packed and headed back to the train station.


1 Beginning 5 Paris 9 Frankfurt and the Night Train 13 Bavaria and Tirol
2 London to Edinburgh 6 Bruges 10 Vienna 14 Motorcycles in the Alps
3 The Fringe 7 Amsterdam 11 Hallstatt and the Salzkammergut 15 Switzerland near Interlaken
4 Scotland and Wales 8 Bacharach in the Rhine Valley 12 Salzburg 16 Home again

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