In Brugge we trust.
Some days you feel down, and you don’t know why. On other days, you know the exact causes.
I’ve been rejected from French courses for no apparent reason, ghosted on apartment tours, and my book is now out of my hands, so, to escape this pestilential air, I decide to hit the road with a backpack and an old mate.
We rent a car for the 3.5-hour shuttle north on Highway 1 and watch white clouds disperse over the rolling, gold countryside of France. To Bruges!
Brugge: Of course, I’d heard of it from the Colin Farell film. I know that they specialize in beer, chocolate, waffles, and fries (a fu**in phenomenal combo) and that the town has the sleepy, enchanted atmosphere of a fairytale village.
In reality, Brugge is calm. It has a walkable, medieval city center, with a sprawling suburb just across each of its 21 bridges. Cobblestone roads wind through every sector of the city, and they become lamplit after twilight. Lush parks, waterways, and overhanging greenery dots every vista. Bike lanes are well marked, and the frontage of brick apartments look like a freshly swept staircase. The air is pure, and the tourists run wild!
Don’t #1: Continually reference the film ‘In Bruges’
It’s a great film. It really is. But there comes a point in a person’s first few hours actually in Bruges, where you realize that everyone and their cousin is also referencing the movie. ‘In Bruges’ isn’t as ‘indie’ or rare as you thought, and it turns out that between that film and the unfortunate nickname ‘Venice of the North,’ poor Bruggians have a lot to live up to.
Do #1: Book a hotel over Airbnb or Hostel
At 8pm, we check into Monsieur Maurice after a short walk from a parking lot (Bevrijdingslaan), gratis, a brilliant recommendation from our hotel.
A quaint entryway with black marble and violet tones leads us to the concierge. She hands us a key and a map. My friend and I split a small, yet immaculate room with a private bathroom–45€ a night. Breakfast and Wifi are included.
My friend wrote this of his hostel ‘it felt like a majority of the people partying (at the hostel), worked there as well. So, they were those wannabe bohemians who think it’s dope that they’re living in Brugge for 2 months and bartending at a hostel.’
Inexpensive, boutique hotels are the name of the game in Brugge making it a perfect place for a cozy, stressfree stay.
Don’t #2: Fall for tourist traps
The concierge hands me a list of recommendations and explains in French. I’m not French, however, I’m proud that I know enough to fake it. After double checking on TripAdvisor, we try one. It’s a traditionally Flemish restaurant called, the Flemish pot, or De Vlaamsche Pot.
Our dish, their traditional stew, is a beef brisket that I imagine had been tumbling in a hotpot of bbq-ketchupy sauce for a day and a half…served over frites. It’s goopy, heavy, and far too sweet.
Brugge, living up to it’s ‘Venice of the North’ label, grants you the experience of an antique store, where you’re perpetually sorting through what is genuine and what is kitsch.
A few signs of Tourist Traps:
-Free Wifi Sticker
-‘Traditional’ Beer Samplers
Do #2: Wake up early (745am-815am)
Breakfast at our hotel opens at 8am. We’re sure to be there not 5 minutes later.
An early start follows the locals’ schedule. You can feel the warmth of bakeries and local businesses as you beat out the hellish lines that form a few hours later. We arrive at the Belfry with only a handful of people in front of us, which, wins us the day.
Upon exiting the belfry, we dart past the droves to the boat tour and then see Michelangelo’s Madonna. Having accomplished those three in-town musts, we decide to rent bikes and cross the bridge.
Do #3: Rent bikes
A simple tip; Brugge has well-marked bike lanes and bikes open your horizon.
Don’t #3: Ride in the middle of the road
Motor Bikes thunder past in these bike lanes, so please, be safe.
Do #4: Eat at a Modern Brugge Bistro
Two Words: Tête Pressée. In a neighborhood far, far away from the tourist center lies this lunch-only, peach of a bistro.
For an entree we ordered the house special, a crispy tartine covered in clumps of foie gras, topped with pickled radish shavings; filets of skate coated in parsley and a citric oil. For our main course, we were served a Belgian risotto, that surprisingly resembled the flavor profiles of Gumbo, tossed with sausage, shrimp and clams.
Don’t #4: Think that you need to eat Frites more than once
I word it this way because you’re old enough to make your own decisions. Just warning you, it’s not any different the second time around.
We went to Chez Vincent, a fast-food joint written up in the NYTimes for their superior frites, and I was heavily disappointed. Unsalted and needs sauce!
Do #5: Have one or two beers and then taste everyone else’s
Pubs in Brugge look like a distant relative of British or Irish bars with swinging logos of the preferred beverage out front, and a wooden interior with stools, small tables, and dim lit backrooms. Along with the ridiculous amount of Belgian beers, each has a distinct tulip, flute, or mug, to enhance the aeration.
I assumed the pubs would be touristy. But I assumed wrong. They had an organic mix of locals sprinkled with a few Anglosaxons. The three I tried were:
A lively, old-fashioned pub with locals and tourists alike. Deep beer list and a cheap 50cl.
Divey as Brugge gets, an underground cellar with a rowdy ambiance. Best with a large group of chums.
Quiet, kitschy festoons of roses, for couples who care for great beer at a premium price.
Don’t #5: Have 5 or 6 beers yourself without assessing first
There are limits to trying things out. Remember, Belgian beers are around 8%-11% Abv, so be prudent when drinking. My friends and I went a little overboard, and the legendary Trappist ales gave me a legendary Trappist hangover.
Hope you enjoyed this guide, I’ll leave some extra links for you at the bottom.
A serene town like Bruges cures the big city woes.
#LocalFare #Bistro #OneOfAKind
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