Can you find free chocolate in Bruges? Yes!
On my one and only visit to Bruges, over 12 years ago, it was pouring rain so I did what any sensible person would do – I found a restaurant! I still remember polishing off a plate of cherry crepes after eating a full lunch. It’s finally time to revisit the city and see it properly for the first time – hopefully in good weather!
We have just one day and night in Bruges, so we'll have to make the most of it. We’ll be arriving from Paris mid-morning and our plan is to drop our bags at the hotel and spend the day exploring on foot. Experience tells me on day three or four of any trip, the adrenaline starts to die down and while we think we've beaten the jet lag we crash by mid-afternoon. So I’m banking on a nap – and happily so!
None! But we have purchased a Rick Steves e-guidebook, which includes a detailed self-guided walking tour that we’ll use as our starting point.
SOOO..... How Did Our Day Go?
Leaving to Chance:
Just about everything! We’re going to let curiosity and energy levels be our guide – and dip into the guidebook if we want a little direction.
After a few days of travel, battling jet lag, and gorging on Parisian pastries, we’re going to get back on track in Bruges. We made sure our hotel included a breakfast buffet with plenty of healthy, hearty options, including hot selections, cheese, meat, and fruit.
Sometimes getting great value means paying a little extra, and that is exactly what we did when we booked our hotel. We spent a small amount of money to upgrade to a canal view. We’re in Bruges to experience all the city’s lovely architecture and romantic waterways and we want to soak in as much of the atmosphere as we can.
Splurges and Souvenirs:
I’m not going to hold back on trying plenty of Bruges' famous chocolate. Quality chocolate isn’t cheap, but I think it will be worth every penny.
Jetlag is a fickle mistress. I only managed a few hours of sleep before we left Paris at 6:00 am feeling tired, confused, grumpy, and cold. Europe was much chillier than I anticipated and wasn't just me: the locals are complaining as well!
Things improved considerably once we arrived in Bruges. The sun came out and once we hit the cobblestones I was rejuvenated. I love small European cities for their instant navigation - despite all the twisting lanes we just kept our eyes on the church spires to easily make our way to the city centre.
Bruges is every bit as pretty as it's portrayed in the movies. All kinds of travel hyperbole came to mind and words like "charming", "nestled", and "hidden gem" are perfectly fitting. It's the ideal place to aimlessly wander, which we did for several happy hours before retiring back to our hotel for a well deserved nap. As predicted, we were in desperate need of a down day and it was so relaxing to watch the canal from the hotel window and see the swans drift by. Our modest hotel, the Tir Reien,was the perfect place for us.
By late afternoon we were ready to hit the streets again - but this time we took a different approach, using a suggested self-guided walking tour in the Rick Steves guidebook to see the city's sights. As we ducked into a church from the 1100s, an archeological excavation (in the basement of the Crown Plaza - just ask the front desk to have a quick peek), a lace shop, and a frites (French fry) stand, we saw an entirely new side of the city. We loved using the Rick Steves walk and we never got lost or turned around. I would definitely try this method of site seeing again!
Of course, Bruges is famous for mussels, frites, waffles, and chocolates, so of course we picked the least obvious choice and had Italian food for lunch! Carlitos is a full fledged Italian restaurant and has a wide range of good choices for vegetarians and those allergic to gluten. We split a large, thin crust, wood oven baked pizza (8 slices was 13.50 Euros) and it was delicious! It came with a spicy chili olive oil that we couldn't get enough of and we ordered red wine for me (4 Euro for a small glass) and beer for Ryan. (At 2.40 Euro a small glass it was the same price as a cup of coffee!). We spent 20 Euro for the two of us to fill up on incredible pizza and treat ourselves to drinks in a real, sit down restaurant. Great deal!
Carlitos almost became our dinner destination as well. While Europeans generally eat quite late, when we ventured out at 9:00 pm, we found many restaurants were closed! We had a few false starts at places that turned out to be too expensive or too fishy (Ryan is allergic to shellfish) and we had walked close to an hour before stumbling on Bierbrasserie Cambrinus. As soon as I saw it I knew it was exactly what we were looking for: A huge selection of local beers for Ryan and hearty, affordable local food for the two of us.
We were able to employ a favorite strategy of ours for affordable dining: One of us orders the value priced Table D'Hote, with both of us enjoying the appetizer and dessert, and the other just orders one main course. At Bierbrasserie Cambrinus, Ryan ordered the economical Table D'Hote and we split his delicious appetizer of Trappist cheese croquettes (unbelievably rich and decadent), as well as the creme brule made with dark beer for dessert. For a main course he enjoyed their signature Flemish Carbonades prepared with “Gulden Draak” beer, which was a savory beef stew, while I selected the half roasted chicken with salad and fries. The portions were huge, the service was good, and the prices were even better. My chicken dish was just 12.50 Euros, while Ryan's three courses were 25.95 Euros. Two huge mains, a generous appetizer, and a just-right sized dessert for less than 40 Euros made us very happy indeed and it was fun to try food made with local beer as an ingredient.
See what happens when Ryan is finally reunited with his most beloved beer in the world, Jupiler. But is the pint emptying too quickly?
Free Chocolate Alert!
Of course, no trip to Bruges would be complete without some of the famous chocolate! Happily, we enjoyed over a dozen pieces, all without paying a cent! Well, not exactly.... We paid for our hotel directly via their website (as opposed to a third party booker). Our hotel, and many others, offer free chocolate as an incentive for direct bookings and since their prices were identical to those offered elsewhere, it worked out to be an excellent deal for us. 250 grams chocolate worked out to be about 15 assorted pieces, which was more than enough.
Bruges was everything we wanted and needed it to be - relaxing, romantic, and rejuvenating. Even though we were only there for a day it felt like we truly soaked up so much of the city's famous atmosphere, spending hours strolling along the beautiful canals and striking architecture. With a well needed nap and lots of downtime watching the water directly outside our hotel window, and even some quiet time doing laundry, we started to put jet lag behind us. All the fresh air and wholesome food put a spring in our and we were excited for our next destination - Liege!
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