In the run up to Christmas it’s essential to do a bit of shopping, but before you let out a groan it is possible to combine this with having fun. We decided to do a pre- Christmas short break to Bruges, which gave us a lovely few days in a fabulous location AND we were able to do a substantial amount of our gift shopping knowing that any gifts we bought were not likely to be duplicated.
One of the things that appealed to me was that it didn’t involve flying. I love flying but with just a 3 night break I didn’t want to spend time waiting in an airport and of course if we were buying presents I wanted to know that there were no luggage security restrictions that would mean we couldn’t bring them back or had to pay extra for a hold bag.
Bruges is known as the Venice of the North and was a leading city in the thirteenth and fourteenth century so it is steeped in history and full of cobbled streets and canals.
So we simply went to St Pancras got on Eurostar, travelled to Brussels then got a connection to Bruges. As we only had small bags we actually took a bus, easy to spot, then walked to our hotel which was beautifully positioned by a canal, and we actually had the room with the circular window at the top.
Well what you need after a journey is a hot chocolate, or coffee and a delicious Belgian pastry. We enjoyed this at one of the many cafes in the square in the old town and whetted our appetite for shopping and Christmas by looking at the market with its colourful stalls and outdoor ice rink.
The old town is wonderfully picturesque and it is very compact so really easy to walk around, aside from the market the shops have the most wonderful window displays to enjoy as you wander.
There are plenty of boat trips on the canal and also rides in the horse drawn carriages, though somehow we didn’t find time to fit either of these into our visit. We did however visit the Belfry and yes we climbed to the top to enjoy the lovely views over the rooftops.
From there we wandered into the Burg, a medieval square, which we also visited in the evening when the lighting made it really atmospheric, and we also paid a quick visit to the Basilica of the Holy Blood. We finished the day off by sampling some of the local beers and then had mussels, a must really, cooked with garlic and cream and served with delicious bread and yes some frites! There were lots of restaurants and many had daily ‘specials’ – it was very easy choosing somewhere that looked really inviting, offered great choice and wouldn’t break the bank.
The next day, after a lovely hotel breakfast and a scenic stroll along the canal we headed first to the Groeninge museum, full of Flemish art and as we were in the ‘culture mood’ followed it by (after some fine Belgian chocolate of course) a visit to the Memling which in addition to ‘art’ told the story of one of the oldest surviving mediaeval hospitals in Europe, I loved some of the gruesome old ‘medical’ instruments.
A leisurely lunch, before starting to shop, first in the market but then wandering round the shops at a very slow pace enjoying all the magical displays, and noticing that even though it was now dark, the place was still vibrant. Another lovely meal, choosing food was never a problem in a city famous for frites, waffles and chocolate! In many ways when you are in Bruges it feels a bit like you are in a time capsule with its cobbled streets canals and wonderful quirky houses.
The next day we had time for a last bit of shopping before heading, loaded with packages back to the station and onto the train, arriving back with happy memories and most of the Christmas shopping done.