Normally I go through a pretty complicated process when booking a holiday. This time, instead of being all ‘ZOMG I must have the best possible hotel in the best possible location at the best possible price’ like the maximiser I am, I shortened the process a hell of a lot and spent a couple of hours (rather than several days) booking it. Eurostar destinations. Check. Quick visit to WikiTravel to see where Bruges or Brussels is better. Check. Overall hotel rating on TripAdvisor. Check. Is cashback available? Check. Done, sorted, booked. Simple.
And you know what? It paid off. Bruges was amazing. I loved it. I had no preconceptions about it at all, and I was pleasantly surprised by the historical feel to it. It was lovely just to wander the cobbled streets, walk by the canals, and check out the food.
The only real downside was that, like an idiot, I managed to twist my leg almost 180 degrees whilst standing between the table and the train seat on the way there. Ouch doesn’t cover it. My leg instantly went all jelly-like, and then turned and it kind of clicked back into place (or almost into place) by itself, but the pain was unbelievable and I nearly fainted even after sitting down. Happily, it didn’t really impact the holiday that much (366 steps up a belfry? Not gonna happen!) and it was a good excuse to sit down for pancakes/croissants/chocolate etc. I now have a lovely collection of green, brown and purple bruises up and down my leg, and yes, it still hurts like a bitch if I don’t move it enough and it gets stiff.
One thing I didn’t expect was that Bruges would be so expensive. I think that’s mostly because of the terrible currency exchange rates at the moment, but really, close to £10 for a pancake?! £3 for a can of Coke?! I nearly had a heart attack. Thanks to a winning combination of free hotel wi-fi and the TripAdvisor app, we managed to find some places which were reasonable enough (and not the £180 for a meal for two people that some insane reviewers dubbed ‘reasonable’ either).
My favourite place was Books and Brunch. Books in all kinds of languages, free wi-fi, active on Facebook, friendly owner, and delicious, reasonably-priced organic food. I was in Jenni heaven. My stalking skills were rumbled though when the owner came over and thanked us for liking his Facebook page. But that was great, because normally it’s the other way round. I got social media’d for once, and it made a nice change.
Our first full day was a Friday, and we were incredibly lucky. It was freezing, but the sky was blue, there weren’t very many people around, and there were lots of photo opportunities. It quickly changed the next day to busy and grey, but that was fine. It’s only a small place, but I’d definitely go back there for a relaxing break for a few days. I think picking a busier city like Paris would have been too stressful, and this way we just wandered around relaxed at our own (in my case, crippled) pace.
I always used to whine about how I wished mainland Europe was more accessible from England (remembering family holidays where relatives living in Germany would drive to France in half an hour to pick up bread), but actually, the Eurostar makes it an incredibly easy trip. Since we can get to it directly from St. Pancras without having to travel across London, we should really take advantage of it more often. I’d quite like to visit the Netherlands, especially Amsterdam. Travelling to and from Bruges actually went pretty fast on account of how I had magazines and my 3DS (I’m currently addicted to Chrono Trigger) to pass the time.
Would I recommend visiting Bruges? Yes, definitely. Take a lot of money, enjoy the beer and chocolate, and don’t expect people to be particularly friendly, and you’ll have a great time. It’s not somewhere you’d want to spent more than 3 or 4 days at if you like plenty of things to see and do on your holiday, and it’s not the place to go for ‘natural’ scenery (I can’t remember when I last visited somewhere with so little green space – the centre itself is pretty much all cobbles and canals), but it’s definitely worth a short trip.