A March 2005 trip
to Brussels by jenandfrank
Quote: A beautiful city with delicious food and a lot more to see than most people would expect.
Located a stone’s throw from the Royal Palace, Avenue Louise and five minutes from Central Station, this 95-room hotel typically caters to diplomats during the week. With a simple front entrance and blue awning and a spacious lobby (for a European hotel) that is pristine yet understated. We found the service to be very friendly and helpful--that is, when we could actually find someone. The main problem with this hotel is that during the weekends the staff is cut by 3/4. It’s also fair to mention that this hotel does not have a bell boy or concierge - ever. The front desk clerk on duty is the concierge and although very nice they are not well informed about the city’s restaurants, best ways to see the city efficiently, basically all the questions tourists ask. This hotel also boasts (in every tour guide) a complimentary shoe shine – daily – provided you put your shoes in a basket found in your room. That’s great, right? Wrong. Every night, we left our shoes outside, and NOT ONCE were they taken or cleaned. I am sure week nights are a different case.
The lobby was all marble floors with lots of antiques arranged in mini-seating areas and cherry-maple woods. Fresh flowers, daily papers and candies at the front desk were also available. Internet access was located at a small desk in the front of the lobby. The charge was 5 euros for 15 minutes and 10 euros for 45. A small bar and an additional seating area were located at the back of the lobby. Guess what? During the weekend, the bartender was the front desk clerk too! It was like a bad sitcom. Two very clean and spacious bathrooms were also off the lobby, towards the elevators. There was a fresh fruit platter by the elevator that was replenished daily. That was a nice touch.
The rooms were surprisingly spacious (we had a standard room), with a separate seating area. They had a couch, two chairs, table, TV, half-bath, telephone, dataport, and (an almost empty) mini bar, separated by a door where the bedroom was and the large bathroom (minus the toilet). The main bathroom had a separate shower and large Jacuzzi tub, two sinks, Molton Brown products, hair dryer (with a button that you had to hold down to keep on), robes, slippers, a towel rack warmer (that was very cool), telephone, and plenty of light, mirrors, and marble. The bedroom was small, with a large closet (including umbrellas), another telephone, trouser press, and TV. The rooms were decorated in a very traditional Old English style, with classic and antique-looking furniture. Lots of light blues, medium-colored woods, off white and gold touches. Really pretty, not modern at all, very bright and very clean. I would say it was exactly what you’d expect from a hotel room.
The hotel had a small "fitness room" with a sauna, solarium, a few pieces of equipment and it was free of charge to the guests. The only restaurant was off the lobby, by the front entrance to the hotel. Small and super overpriced – and only open on the weekdays, of course. Are you seeing a pattern here? There was a small supermarket around the corner where we were able to buy water and basic items. There were also a few sandwich shops, a camera place, and bookstore that were opened early on the same block.
We booked this room on Expedia, very last-minute, because we saw a great deal and read that this hotel was so beautiful and convenient to touristy places. Yes, the hotel is very pretty, and it did have a good location, but to be honest, the lack of service really made it an irritating stay. So much so that I doubt I would go back (my husband feels differently). I travel to see the sights and to be waited on. After all, you are getting away from your own life to relax--that is the purpose of a vacation! I was not able to do this here. We had to carry our bags up and down the five marble steps in the front and through the hotel. We were basically on our own with finding good places to eat and making reservations (every time we asked the front desk to make one, we would get back to the hotel and would be told the restaurant was closed--you didn’t know that?). We had to request turndown service every night (one night we didn’t get it), which at a hotel like this is ridiculous. We requested the shoe shine service (which is supposed to be automatic) every night and were never accommodated. The hotel was empty (they told us so) when we arrived, but we were not allowed to check in until the end of the day because the ONE maid on duty hadn’t gotten to all the rooms yet – can you imagine, for 95 rooms?!
Overall, it's a pretty place, but I would say if you are looking for great service, find somewhere else or don’t come here on the weekends. If you are just looking for a place to hang your hat that is clean and convenient, this is the place for you. Somewhat Recommended.
Located in the heart of Old Brussels, steps away from the Grand Place, this family-owned restaurant has been serving Belgium cuisine since 1921. We sat in the Rotunda Room, which is off to the left of the entrance. I liked this room much better because it was away from the door and had a nicer, quieter setting. The front room had mostly booths and was on top of the revolving door. We sat and were served a loaf of bread that was delicious and very fresh – crumbs were everywhere. The menu was also available in English, which was nice because we found that most restaurants here only had menus in French.
The menu was very extensive for both food and wine, but I chose the 29.50€pre fix. It included the soup of the day (tomato), an appetizer (I chose the chicken croquettes), a huge portion of mussels served in chicken broth and celery and a dessert (which was a mandarin crepe). The meal was delicious and I seriously could not believe the amount of food I was served for about $35. They also had a 49.50€ prix-fixe menu with other options, a huge mussels menu, and a full á la carte menu. My husband ordered off the regular menu and had a ham salad, basically a plate of fresh ham (proscuitto) with a separate salad on the side, and the beef carbonade (prepared with a local beer). Can I just tell you that we were wiping the plate clean with bread afterwards. It was just so tasty. I always say the food is always as good as the amount of locals who dine there, and believe me, it was packed with them.
Reservations are a must, and there was a line out the door when we left at 10pm. We made reservations in advance by emailing the restaurant. There were so many waiters that we never waited or wanted for anything. Dress in neat, casual attire, and the restaurant has reasonable prices and a relaxed feel. It is open for lunch and dinner, and they accept all major credit cards. Takeout and delivery to your local hotel are also available. Highly Recommended.
Falstaff– Rue H.Maus 19, Brussels, 32- 2.511.87.89, http://www.resto.be/falstaff/default.cfm?restoid=484&source=home&langue=uk
Located across the street from the Stock Exchange and a few blocks from the Grand Place and known for its Art Nouveau decor and "half en half" (a champagne glass filled at your table with half sparkling wine and half dry white wine), this restaurant serves French and Belgium cuisine, with dark woods, lots of stained glass and burgundy accents, and a huge outdoor seating area. We were a little disappointed that the menu was only available in French, especially considering how old (1903) and popular the restaurant is. My husband got a kick out how they had a different glass for every beer; that being said, they had a huge selection of beers. (Someone was slightly loopy after we left.) I had the waterzooi, which was very good but mostly dark meat. My husband had the falstaff sandwich (ham and turkey), and we ordered a side of frites. I felt the menu was pricey for what we got (about 50€ before tip for lunch!), and I felt the waiter got annoyed when we asked for extra bread.
It is casual, with mediocre service – you’ll wait forever for help. I didn’t love it here – at all. My husband really wanted to go because it’s famous and apparently had an unbelievable decor (he was right about that). The staff was missing in action and sort of rude. I’m not sure if that was because we were Americans, because we didn’t speak French, or because he was just having a crappy day. Reservations were definitely not necessary for lunch. Open for lunch (11:30am to 3pm) and dinner (7pm to 11pm) seven days a week. All credit cards are accepted. Somewhat recommended for food/very highly recommended for beer.
Chez Leon – Rue de Bouchers 14-24, Brussels, 32-2-511-14-15, www.chezleon.be
This opened in 1893 and is located on one of the small side streets steps away from the Grand Place. Although we had read about this place in advance, we weren’t planning on stopping by for dinner. One night, due to lack of reservations, we were walking by and they had some tables, so we decided to give it a shot. The outside looks sort of cheesy, not a place you’d think to go on if you were on a date let’s say.
The menu was full of typical Belgium fare, with a huge mussel and beer selection. Their menu was like a NYC diner menu (in terms of choices) – pages long. I had another prix-fix meal, for 22.50€ this time. It came with a soup, appetizer, entrée, and choice of dessert – all generous portions (you can’t go wrong). Once again, all of my courses were delicious and the staff was very accommodating to us. I had the moules frites, a.k.a mussels in the natural broth and celery that came in a small pot and was served with french fries. My husband had the steak with a béarnaise sauce. The sorbet was homemade. We left full and satisfied.
It has a very casual, relaxed atmosphere. My only complaint was that it was sometimes hard to find our waiter. The busboy delivered our food to the waiter’s station, and it just sat there. After 5 minutes of staring at our food, we got up and served ourselves. They have English menus, lots of seating, and a nonsmoking area. It’s definitely worth the visit. Open daily from 12 to 11pm. Kids eat free. "Leon" has recently become a chain, with a location in Paris. Recommended.
Au Vieux Saint Martin - Grand Sablon 38, Brussels, 32-2-512-6476.
To me, this place was the equivalent of a French/Belgium diner. It was packed, loud, and very casual, with a crazed staff. The menu was in French, and we were given a small translation directory for about four languages to French. That really wasn’t much help. Wouldn’t it be easier just to get more menus printed than have to print these fancy cards and distribute them?
My husband had the waterzooi and I had fish-and-chips. Both meals were good. It happened to be Easter, so they gave us three small chocolate eggs, which was nice, but I felt we had paid for them and then some. The staff and most of the patrons were pretentious, and the bill was ridiculously expensive. The watersooi was over 20€, while in other restaurants it was around 10€. It is definitely overpriced because of the location. There were tons of locals and kids. Reservations are not accepted. Somewhat Recommended.
Boon and Cook – Grand Sablon, Brussels.
This is a nice-size brasserie (what we’d call in the U.S. a bar-grill) located a few doors down from the Au Vieux Saint Martin. The waitress was friendly, helpful, and quick (she was the only waitress for the whole place). The menu was, again, in French, but this time we had seen enough French menus that we were able to recognize most of the selections and were also able to get some questions answered, so it was not a problem. It has a dark interior, many photos of famous European actors, and a large bar with lots of locals (we were the only tourists). This seemed like a place where the locals meet after work. We both started with the curry chicken salad, which we saw two people next to us enjoying (as an entrée no less). The salad was incredible, with so much curried chicken and tossed with a very different, yet tasty, vinaigrette – unreal. I then had the waterzooi, and it was by far the best we had during our stay, by far. My husband had a steak with a béarnaise sauce and frites. We were too full for dessert, but we enjoyed their coffee. Overall, we were both very happy with the meal, the service, the beverage choices – everything. This place was just as good as, if not better than, Saint Martin, but at literally half the price. It is casual, so no reservations are needed. Highly Recommended.
Stop 1 - Central Station: This included the Grand Place (pronounced Grand Plus, heavy on the PL), The Chocolate Museum (5€ admission), Mannekin Piss (the famous, yet tiny, statue of a boy peeing), and Rue des Bouchers. Stop 2 - Pacheco: This included Saint-Michel’s and Saint-Gudule’s Cathedral (the outside of the church happened to be under construction when we went), the Congress Column, and the Botanical Gardens. Stop 3 - Place Rogier: This included Rue Neuve shopping. Stop 4 - Heysel: This included the Atomium, a.k.a The Atom (also under construction, which was built for the World’s Fair); the Brussels Planetarium; and the King Baudoin soccer stadium. Stop 5 - Bourse-Grand Place: This included the fish market, Saint-Catherine’s Church, the Stock Exchange, Falstaff Restaurant, and the covered ruins of a medieval Franciscan Church. Stop 6 - Sablon: This has the Antiques Market, the Sablon Church, the Sablon Gardens, Boon and Cook Restaurant, the Musical Academy, and the Museum of the Postal Service. Stop 7 - Place Louise: This included lots shopping (their version of a 5th Avenue or Rodeo Drive). Stop 8 – Lesbroussart with Art Nouveau (we didn’t get off the bus here). Stop 9 - Luxembourg Station: This is where we got on, close to the Stanhope Hotel. This stop included the European Parliament, the European Council of Ministers, Leopold Park, and the Museum of Natural Sciences. Stop 10 - Gaulois: This included the Cinquantenaire Park with Autoworld, the Royal Military Museum, the Royal Museum of Art and History, and the Triumphal Arch. Stop 11 - Place Schuman: This included the European Commission, Rue de la Loi (business district), and the Art Nouveau area. Stop 12 - Royal Square: This included the Royal Park Theatre, the Belgian Federal Parliament, the Palace of the Academy, the Royal Palace, the Equestrian Statue of Godfrey de Bouillon, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, and the Museum of Musical Instruments.
Although we did not book this in advance, it was possible to do so online at www.viator.com. (I think they are slightly more expensive than what we paid at our hotel’s front desk.) I thought the tour was great and well worth the money. We never had to wait for a bus long, they were clean, and we had minimal problems with the headsets/volume. It is great for kids and handicapped people who really want to see the sights – it’s just great period. Highly Recommended.
The tour was a day trip to Ghent and Bruges. It’s definitely worth a trip to both cities if time allows. The predominant language here is Flemish, although you will hear French and English on occasion as well. It’s definitely a place to invest in a good map if you plan to spend the day exploring, as the streets become very winding. It’s basically a medieval city filled with beautiful, old buildings, and churches. Ghent’s three famous towers include Belfort, Saint Nicholas’ Church, and St. Bavo’s Church. Belfort, aka Belfry (09/223-99-22), once served as a watchtower for the city and stands almost 300 feet tall. Built in the early 1300s and open to climb/take the elevator to the top, since 1377, the structure has been topped with a gilded copper weather vane in the shape of a dragon, which is the city's symbol of freedom. The Belfort offers some incredible views of Ghent, as well as a collection of carillon bells, the clock mechanism, and a small museum within. The current 53-bell carillon is claimed by experts to be one of the best in the world and is located on the top floor. The day we were there, it was very foggy and overcast, as you can see in my pictures. Even still, the views were breathtaking, and on a clear day, I’m sure you could see the entire city. Admission is 3 euros for adults, 1.75 for seniors, .90 for children, and kids are free.
Saint Nicholas’ Church was built in the 11th century in a Romanesque style. It was destroyed a century later after two disastrous fires and eventually rebuilt by merchants. The Tower was the first belfry in Ghent and dates back to 1300. During the French Revolution, the church was used as a stable – can you imagine? Overall, the church was pretty, but simple--not even close to St. Bavo’s in size or beautiful décor and fixtures. Sint-Baafskathedraal, or St. Bavo’s Church, as it is most well-known, includes Gothic, Romanesque, and baroque architecture. Admission is free, and it is open daily, with various hours depending on the day and season, 09/225-16-26. The outside is large but unimpressive, I thought. Inside you will find incredible paintings, sculptures, tombs, and the famous "Adoration of the Holy Lamb". It’s a masterpiece by artists Jan and Hubert Van Eyck. It’s twenty-four separate scenes (panels) and is housed in a special chapel (with an additional 2.50-euro fee for admission). This church has a huge pipe organ inside and unbelievable stained glass. There was someone playing the pipe organ while we were inside, and it was amazing. There is a nice-size gift shop at the front entrance where they sold books in many languages, postcards, crosses, etc.
The Belfort, St. Nicholas, and St. Bavo’s Church are all in the same area, along with several souvenir, lace, and chocolate shops. In front of Saint Nicholas, we found a woman selling poffertjes (we hadn’t seen them since Amsterdam) from a little booth. They are the small Dutch pancakes and are SO tasty. My husband and I almost fell over when we saw her, and they were only 2.50 euros a dish, as well. Made the trip to Ghent just so much better. If you’ve ever tasted them you would agree. The ride to Ghent took less than 1 hour from Brussels (Ghent is 30 miles North West of Brussels). It’s a pretty city that we had unfortunately less than two hours to spend in. It is feasible to take the train from Central Station to Ghent for about $40 per person, round-trip. It is also very easy to catch one of the north-south trams to St. Pieters, the main train station, once in town. I would definitely come back to explore further if we ever found ourselves in Belgium again: www.viator.com , The tour provided a guide that spoke in three languages. Recommended.
Overall, the city is very pretty and filled with lots of old and interesting buildings, similar to the rest of Europe. Ninety percent of the natives here speak French, and the rest speak Flemish. I would say there was a portion who spoke English (as well), but far less than other major cities we have visited, like Paris, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam, etc. In addition, generally speaking, most of the menus were in French, with only a few places having an English alternative. The same goes for signs. I can count on one hand how many had English words on them. Funny, though, how music (everywhere we went) was American and obviously in English.
The Grand Place (or Grote Markt in Flemish) was absolutely incredible, the best-preserved medieval townscape in Europe. Called the most beautiful square in all of Europe and from what we’ve seen so far, I would be hard pressed to argue the point. It was so large and there was so much going on, I had a hard time fitting whole buildings into my camera frame. It is sort of like St. Mark’s Square in Venice, and yet so different. The idea of a large square surrounded by old buildings, tourists, and shops – that is all the same. But here the buildings are all different and the vibe is amazing instead of relaxed, as in St. Mark’s. The largest building here is the City Hall, with the King’s House (Maison du Roi) to the north; the House of the Dukes of Brabant to the east; and shops, restaurants, museums, and tourists filling the rest. Although one building does not stand out from the rest, they are all beautiful and unique in their own way.
The area surrounding the Grand Place is filled with souvenir shops, chocolate shops, waffle stands, the Chocolate Museum, the statue of Everard’t Serclaes, and the Manneken Piss Statue (properly called Petit Julien). The first night we were there, Manneken Piss was dressed in an Asian costume. We had hoped we would have a chance to see the statue "naked" in order to get a good picture, and luckily had that opportunity on our last night in town. I have to say that I was expecting this huge statue. In fact, it is very small (the size of a small child) and located on a corner, off the ground, surrounded by a small black fence. The statue of Everard’t Serclaes is a gold piece attached to a wall (in the middle of one of the side street/alleys) whose arm you must rub for good luck. There are people flocking around both statues, taking pictures, staring… it’s amusing.
There are four obvious big attractions here: chocolate, beer, waffles, and mussels. In terms of chocolate, my suggestion would be to skip Godiva and Neuhaus (two large shops found in the Grand Sablon) simply because they are available at home and the prices here were not a bargain. Stop by the local shops, browse, taste test (some have samples), and just chalk it up to another experience.
Beer - we found it interesting that most places served each beer in a different glass. We definitely got a kick out of waiting to see which glass we’d receive next and even bought one to take home (geeks). My husband’s favorite was Kwak, which was served in an hourglass-shaped glass that couldn’t stand on its own, so it was accompanied by a wooden stand. We were told there is a different Belgian beer for every day of the year!
Mussels, oh, the mussels... Boy, are they tasty. I love seafood but never thought I’d enjoy a pot of mussels in a simple broth and celery mix as much as I did while in town - fresh, cooked perfectly, tasty, and with tons of them. Not one restaurant we went to skimped on a serving or had anything but delicious mussels to serve. They are a MUST-try if you are a seafood lover.
Waffles in Belgium were good, but, like I titled this journal, it’s not all about the waffles. There are waffle stands just about everywhere you look, especially in the Grand Place area. In addition, just about every restaurant served their version of waffles. With toppings galore, it was a tasty indulgence. As with Amsterdam, napkins here were in short supply. If I went to a waffle stand and ordered a waffle with ice cream and toppings (dripping everywhere) and asked for a second napkin, I was either ignored or given one more napkin with major attitude attached. I just find that amusing, because, in the States, napkins are in containers everywhere to take. Sometimes, if you aren’t even a customer of the establishment, people take napkins. It was just a different experience we quickly had to adjust to, being that we are slobs.
The Place du Grand-Sablon, or the Grand Sablon as most people call it, is known as the most elegant area in Brussels. The "square" is filled with fancy (overpriced) restaurants and hotels, elegant houses, and antique shops and flea markets. This is where we had one of the best meals of our trip at Boon & Cook. (See my dining journal.) There is a large church (Notre Dame) and the Sablon Gardens here as well, and both are beautiful to see. The Atomiun was somewhat of a disappointment - not for lack of size, simply because it was under construction and we could not get close to it, could not get good photos of it, and obviously could not get inside. It was designed by Andre Waterkeyn in 1958 as the centerpiece for the World Fair in Brussels and is often compared to the Eiffel Tower in Paris (which was built for similar reasons). It is located out of town, but it is one of the stops on the double-decker bus tour. I would recommend going even if it’s still under construction, if for nothing else than to see what the hype is about. There is a "Mini Europe" park and an IMAX theater located behind the Atom.
The double-decker bus, as described in my other journal, is definitely worth the 16€, and in my opinion, the best way to get your bearings of the city. There are three forms of public transportation in the city: the subway, bus, and tram. We used none of these because we preferred to walk as much as possible (that’s how we like to see a city), but were told they all ran very efficiently. Finding a cab outside of the Grand Place was a bit of a challenge, especially by our hotel (near the Palace). The Stanhope’s front desk had to call for one every time. Streets were dead on the weekends, and at night, everything closed early.
The Royal Palace is really a spectacular sight (especially at night), and to our shock, so accessible. We were told that when the royals are in town, the flag is up (which it was), and I was shocked that the front "gate" was so low and no guards around, etc. It was just nice to be able to get so close. There is a park across the street from the palace filled with statues and a fountain. I’m sure in the spring and summer it is beautiful when the flowers are in full bloom.
I would say that the people here were pleasant. By that, I mean not overly friendly but not rude. I’m sure Americans aren’t that popular considering, when walking past all of the embassies, the American embassy was the only one with guards and a fence. I’m not sure how else to explain it. I will say that once someone heard our voice (accent/language), the extra effort/attention was somewhat diminished. I guess that’s better than being ignored. But it is important to say that we never felt unsafe – ever. We would take extensive walks at night and never had any problems. In fact, Brussels is absolutely beautiful at night. The weather reminded me a lot of London: cool, damp, and lots of fog (as you can see by most of my pictures) with patches of sun. We were here late March, though, so I can’t speak for the rest of the year. But, during our trip, it rained often and was cold at night. I think Brussels is a great place for a long weekend trip or a stop on a European itinerary. We were here 3 days and didn’t have a chance to visit any museums or take an Art Nouveau walk. We could have stayed another few days and would not have been bored. I would recommend a quick jaunt to both Ghent and Bruges if time allows as well. Recommended.
A small van picked us up at our hotel (in Brussels) at 9am and drove us to Central Station, where we met a large coach bus. The whole trip was about 10 hours: 3 hours/transportation, 2 hours/Ghent, and 4 hours/Bruges. In Ghent, the weather was foggy and overcast, yet in Bruges, it cleared up and turned out to be quite a beautiful day. What a lovely, quaint city. It is almost like the land that time forgot - with no modern buildings or fixtures whatsoever.
Medieval Gothic, Romanesque, Renaissance, baroque, neoclassical, and neo-Gothic are the types of architecture you will find here. That is what makes this city so unique. During the Middle Ages, Bruges was among the wealthiest cities of Europe. In the 1500s, the Zwirn river, which linked Bruges to the North Sea, became impossible to navigate because of silting. Traders moved their business to Antwerp, and Bruges’ commercial decline ensued. The people of Bruges were left with little money and could not afford any modernization.
Now, Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bruges has a total population of 115,000, of which 25,000 live in the old center. It is the capital town of the West-Vlaanderen (West Flanders) province and located in northern Belgium. The predominant language here is Flemish, although you will hear French, German, and English on occasion as well.
Interestingly enough, our tour did not include a map, so we stopped at a hotel and got one from the concierge desk. I would recommend bringing a map since none of the souvenir shops had them for sale and the city can be confusing with its winding canals and streets and medieval townscape. Entering Bruges, we first walked through the Begijinhof (Beguinage) complex. Begijnhof is a courtyard surrounded by 17th-century cottages. The square is filled with beautiful yellow daffodils during the spring. In the early 1900s, Benedictine nuns converted the complex into a convent. Nuns still live here today. There are signs saying "Silence, Please" (which everyone seems to ignore) throughout the square. Nuns are seen walking through the grounds, and their black habits against the yellow daffodils is a beautiful and striking sight.
Taking a canal boat trip is definitely something I would highly recommend doing. It is very inexpensive, 5.20€ for adults, and allows you to see, yet again, a different side of the city. There are several departure points, all marked with an anchor icon on the local maps. A horse-drawn carriage is also an option, but more expensive at 25€ for a 30-minute ride. The streets are winding and narrow, and if a horse-and-buggy want to pass, you have to get on the sidewalk (and quick). Bike tours and bike rentals are also available, but to be honest, I think the best way to see this city is on foot. The busiest part of the city (where most of the tourists are) is packed with chocolate shop after chocolate shop, with souvenir stores in between. Bruges is famous for its lace. Bobbin lace making originated here in the 16th century. There are lace stores throughout the city, from the very inexpensive to the "you got to be kidding" expensive.
In Market Square is the Belfort-Hallen (Belfry), which offers incredible views of the city, including the Burg. That is, if you are willing to hike up the 366 steps. I must be honest and say that anyone who saw me would have thought I was a smoker (and I'm not) with the way I was huffing and puffing while climbing these stairs. There are two landings along the way, but otherwise, the stairwell is very steep, and there are only a few handrails here and there, with a heavy rope in the center to grab onto. I think the walk down was slightly more challenging than the way up. Regardless, once on top, you can see the city for miles (and the endless sea of orange roofs), so I'm glad I made the effort. Built in the mid-1200s, the cost was 5€ (approximately) to climb.
The market place (Grote Market) is free from traffic. It has been completely refurbished and is now one of the most attractive parts of the city. The Burg is medieval Bruges at its best. Here, you can find the Palace of the Liberty of Bruges (Paleis van de Bruges Vrije), the town hall of Bruges (Stadhuis), and the Basilica of the Holy Blood (Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed). In the Basilica of the Holy blood, there is a vial said to contain Jesus’ blood. Overall, the Burg reminded me of a tiny Grand Place in Brussels (very tiny that is).
The Church of Our Lady (13th century) is one of Bruges' top sights, simply because it holds Michelangelo's Madonna and Child statue. Interestingly enough, while we were there, it seemed that everyone in the church had no idea about the statue. They were flocking to everything but that. The statue is behind glass and located to the front-right part of the church. The church is also home to the tombs of Charles the Bold and Mary of Burgundy. Admission is free, and an interesting side note is that the Madonna statue was originally sculpted for the Siena Cathedral.
I felt that in 4 hours we were able to cover most of the major sights. I think that is mostly due to the fact that we ditched the tour guide and went at our own pace (quick). It seemed to us that the tour guide was more interested in stopping at certain shops (friends of his) than showing us as much of the city as he could. Overall, Bruges is beautiful, with quite a few cultural attractions and places to visit. I'm sure there are other areas of town that we would have enjoyed had we had more time. I will say though that staying overnight would not be for us. Although I know there are many people that do overnight trips here or even week trips, I would assume there is not much nightlife here, but there are many restaurants with outdoor seating in beautiful settings. It is only an hour train ride from Brussels. There is lots of cobblestone, so dress accordingly. Recommended.
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