In March of 2020, Josh and I had planned to take a weekend trip to Venice, instead however our trip took a quick turn when Venice was put into lockdown to try and stop the pandemic from spreading. So that weekend (not knowing that eventually we would all be in lockdown!) we booked a quick trip to Bruges, Belgium and planned our first road trip together.
Bruges is a small city located in the northwest region of Belgium, about a 1.5 hour drive from the ferry port in Calais, France. We arrived in Bruges at 11:00pm on Thursday night, and checked into the Ibis Budget hotel, right next to the train station. After getting off the ferry, and being the last customers at a McDonalds in Calais, we were ready to crash and get a good sleep before exploring Bruges!
The next morning we started our time in Bruges by walking around the city. I knew that Bruges has been called “the Venice of the North” because of the little canals that run through the city, but wasn’t sure exactly how that nickname would translate. Well, to be a little controversial here, I would call Venice the “Bruges of the South!” Bruges’ canals are banked on either side by these beautiful, small, old houses, and have old bridges to get pedestrians across.
When walking through Bruges, we were able to see bits of history everywhere we went. This is very common when exploring European cities, as the continent is filled with historical landmarks. What is uncommon, however, is a city not being severely affected by World War 2. Although the city was occupied by Germany in 1940, they did not destroy the city. Although it was suspected that the Nazis would destroy some of the religious artwork and sculptures in the city (the Madonna and Child being one) that was stopped and the city remains a pre-war masterpiece of history.
Initially I wanted to visit Bruges because of the Madonna and Child. I’ve always loved the movie “Monuments Men,” and wanted to see the sculpture of the Madonna and Child that was featured heavily in that movie. The sculpture itself is now located in the Church of Our Lady, and although the church was closed to visitors when we went (because of the on-coming pandemic) being in the city that it lives in made me very happy.
If history isn’t your favourite subject (can you tell its mine?) Bruges also homes a beautiful square, a brewery, and many small museums that we loved looking through! Market Square (Markt) is located in the city centre, and is known for its buildings that look like gingerbread houses and the Belfry Tower, that stands tall at one end and invites visitors to look all around the area. Markets have been held there since 958, and although we didn’t experience one, it is easy to imagine the stalls filled with produce and goods, and visitors stocking up on supplies.
The Halvemaan Brewery is still one of our favourite stops in 2020. The brewery boasts 4 different kinds of beer, ranging from a nice blonde to one of the darkest ales I’ve seen! Our tour guide took us around the brewery, explaining how the beer is made as well as the history of the brewery itself. One fun fact we learned was that the brewery (which is found within the city of Bruges) has a pipeline that connects it to the bottling plant which is over 3 kilometres away!
The tour also includes the best view of Bruges you can get. Our tour guide took us to the rooftop of the brewery and gave everyone time to take pictures and enjoy the site. He then led us down to the bar and restaurant, where everyone was given a drink token to try one of the beers. My favourite was the blonde Bruges Zot, while Josh’s was the double. We both agreed that the 4th beer (the darkest) was too strong for us, and that the third was good, but we couldn’t finish a whole glass. Now, that’s not saying the third and fourth were bad. No, they were fantastic beers, I’m just a fan of a good pale ale. It’s also good to note that when we visited, the lighter two were on tap, and the darker two were bottled.
Finally, we visited the Chocolate Museum! The museum, called Choco-Story takes you through the history of chocolate in Belgium, and includes little treats along the way! We were able to try white, milk, and dark Belgian chocolate, and grew to notice how rich Belgian chocolate is compared to Canadian or English chocolate! At the end of the museum there are a series of chocolate sculptures including, of course, the Madonna and Child! Some other sculptures were Lady and the Tramp eating spaghetti, and some Minions! We had so much fun at the Chocolate Museum, and would completely recommend it for any trip to Bruges.
We only explored Bruges for a day before everything shut down (thanks Covid), but completely fell in love with this storybook town. Since leaving we’ve talked about Bruges every week, and are already planning a trip back in the future. Bruges is often forgotten about when talking about European cities, but shouldn’t be overlooked any longer! If you’re looking for a nice city break, or wanting to start your European adventure with a relaxing, historical city, Bruges is the place to be!