Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bells, beer and blue sky!

There's only so much rain and mud a girl can take (I am typing this whilst yet another storm rages in - more flood warnings today, it's getting boring now).  So - 

We hopped on the Eurostar to Bruges (it's scarily too easy) and four whole days without a wellie in sight!! Once on the train with the obligatory coffee, shortbread (a bungalow girl tradition) and my book I was lulled in to such a state of utter relaxation that I missed the channel tunnel completely and woke up in Calais.

Chocolate fountain (I didn't dare go inside this shop - I just sniffed the air from outside the window)
My cherry beer in a bar called De Garre - mmmmmm
I love the little cubes of cheese you get with your beer 
The horse and traps in the beautiful Markt

Our hotel was down a little cobbled street, only five minutes walk from the centre.  It used to be an 18th Century monastery so I had a great time examining the many beams, feeling the smooth dark, polished wood and creeping up the creaky stairs at night.

This was the view from our window of St Salvator Kathedraal

I immediately loved Bruges and I'd only seen the hotel!  I'm easy to please.  The sound of bells, the cobbled streets, lamps and Flemish roofs were enough.  I enjoyed people watching from our room in the hotel roof, although I could only see people's bottom halves.  I loved the little lace curtains in the house opposite.  Sarah told me off for spying!

Top right window - Elderly lady, walks with sticks, has a grandfather clock and wears sandals around the house.
Bottom right window - Man, likes to sit in the dark drinking beer and nibbles in front of a blue flickering TV.    
On our first evening, as usual, we got a bit over excited and had dinner in an expensive restaurant on the main square called La Belle Vue.  I was drawn to the little lamps in the window.  It looked very cosy.  

La Belle Vue

Sarah had Flemish rabbit stew in a cherry beer sauce with croquettes (they eat a lot of croquettes).  It was sublime.  I had beef stew with frites, yum.  The beer was quite a bit stronger than the real ale we drink at home, hic.

Friday -

The next day we explored the city.  It was so clean and unspoilt, partly due to the city escaping major damage in both world wars.  The 13th Century Markt was beautiful with it's towering belfry (The Belfort) and medieval gabled houses.

Flemish roofs

The Belfort

The Markt

We then explored a smaller adjoining square called The Burg.

Bit cold for ice-cream

In the Heilig Bloed Basiliek (Basilica of the Holy Blood) we saw what is supposedly a sacred phial of Christ's blood brought back from Jerusalem in 1150.

Basilica of the Holy Blood

Then from the Burg through Blind Donkey Alley to the 18th Century Vismarkt (fish market).  And it was very fishy!

Blind Donkey Alley

Three ducks sunbathing

Frank van Acker - the first Socialist mayor in Bruges

We didn't fancy a boat trip, the people looked very crampt and cold!

Lots of restaurants and shops still had Christmas displays

Sky still blue

I wouldn't mind living here - the one on the left that is!

On our wanderings we found a very unusual church called the Jeruzalemkerk built in 1497 by a rich pilgrim recently returned from Jerusalem.

A very macabre alter with skulls - Jeruzalemkerk

Next door housed a lace museum.  I was pleased to find that they still make lace here and hold workshops and classes in the Kantcentrum.  

We saw lots of contemporary lace as well as the more traditional designs

We were then on the outside of the city at the Kruspoort.  This is the only surviving gate from the old city fortifications that originally surrounded Bruges.


There were once 20 windmills overlooking the canal.  Now only four remain.  I adore windmills and lighthouses so I was off!

No. 1 'Bonne Chieremolen' brought from a Flanders village in 1911

No. 2 - 'St Janshuismolen' original to the city and restored.  Erected 1770


No. 3 (my favourite) - 'De Nieuwe Papegai' relocated 1970

No. 4 - 'Coelewey Molen' built 1765, rebuilt here 1996

I wonder why the roofs are like that?

That night we went to a bar called De Garre, down a tiny narrow alleyway.  400 beers and great for people watching (plus cubes of cheese).  Pics of beer at top of this post!

De Garre
Saturday - 

A visit to St Salvator Kathedraal.  It was originally a church in the 10th Century but was granted cathedral status in 1788 after the French destroyed the previous one.  Outside it was a very impressive, powerful looking building.  Inside it was dark, dusty and eerie especially with Barber's Adagio playing in the background....  

Then on to Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk or Church of our Lady.  This was also being restored inside.  It took 200 years to build, starting in 1220 and houses Michelangelo's statue 'Madonna and child'.  Bit strange listening to Christmas music through the speakers.  Someone needs to change the CD!

Church of our Lady

Back to the main square to climb the 13th Century belfry.  

The Provincial Hof houses the local government offices in the Markt

The belfry was once used to store the town's charter and also as an observation post to alert the townsfolk of danger or fire.  It stands 83 metres high, has 366 steps and it leans a metre to the east!

The Belfort

In the 16th Century a Carillon was installed so that the bells could be played by a keyboard. 

The bells rang just as we got to the top - made me jump!

Quite a view from the top

There are 47 bells weighing 27 and a half tonnes!  Phwor!

View down to the Burg

View to the Markt below

All that climbing made us yearn for Belgian frites.   We found a great place called Chez Vincent. Frites, salad and mayo for both of us - €6!  You get a little buzzer to tell you your order is ready.

Chez Vincent

Sculptures and fountains in Zand Square

That night we stumbled upon a great bar called The Vintage.  It had 1970's wallpaper and 1980's record covers on the wall and a Vespa hanging from the ceiling - right up my street.  It was so dark you couldn't read the beer menu - who cares!  They had 50 beers, 8 of them draft and most of them Trappist.  I didn't try all of them.

The Vintage

Back to the hotel and over to my spot at the window.   Ooh, top right had a visitor - woman in leopard print and wearing boots.  Bottom right still rubbing his knees and watching TV.  Told to come away from the window.  Some people are no fun...... 

View at night from our hotel room

Sunday - and it's still sunny!  
Leisurely stroll through Minnewater park to Befijnhof, a quiet area of tree lined canals faced with white gabled houses and a simple church.  Swans have been at Minnewater since 1448 (not the same ones).  Maximillian of Austria ordered they be kept in memory of councillor Pierre Lanchais who was beheaded by the Bruges citizens.  Not very friendly.

Benedictine nuns live in these neat houses but they were once housed by the Beguines, a lay sisterhood founded in 1245.

On the way back to the hotel we collapsed in this little tea shop that I had had my eye on all weekend. It was beautiful inside, very regency and sedate with dark walls and black and white photos on the wall.  And relaaaaaaxxxx......

Marie's House

Warm, sweet hot chocolate on a cold day - what could be better?

Last we visited the Stadhuis in the Burg.  This is one of the oldest and finest town halls in Belgium. Built in 1376, it has niche statues all over the façade but these were only added in the 1960's - the French army destroyed the previous statues 100 years earlier!

The Staduis, still with Christmas tree

On the staircase leading from the grand foyer

The foyer

The breathtaking Gothic hall

Last night - back to the place we liked on the first night for Sarah to try another mammal on the menu.

La Belle Vue

I played safe with chicken vol-au-vent, Sarah went wild and had kangaroo.  I did try it, strangely nice - like a cross between liver and venison.  A HUGE crème brulee ended the weekend nicely before we bounced off back home the next day.......

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