Part 2 of my trip to Bruges – read part 1 here.
First thing we did upon waking up at Hotel Navarra was go downstairs for a big and delicious buffet breakfast, ensuring we tried a bit of everything: Full English, croissants, toast, cereal, yoghurt, fruit, cheese and cold meats. Anything less is just a waste! It kept us going for almost the whole day.
When we exited the hotel onto the drizzley grey streets, we were relieved we’d done our ‘outside activities’ yesterday when the sky had been clear and bright. We went first to the Basilica of the Holy Blood, but upon finding Sunday Mass in progress quietly turned back around and down the stairs.
The Town Hall
Fortunately, especially as the drizzle was heavier now, our next building to visit was right next door (Bruges is convenient like that). Having paid €4 each for a ticket to the Town Hall and neighbouring Court building, we ascended a wide staircase to a very grand room indeed.
The Gothic chamber of the Town Hall resembled the inside of a beautiful cathedral: its ceiling richly gilded and pointed, its tall windows filled with stained glass mosaics, its walls covered from floor to ceiling in glorious paintings depicting people and events from Bruges’ history. It was worth taking the time to follow the explanations of the paintings (provided on a laminated sheet in different languages) around the room. The second room was less interesting but held a lot of relics from Bruges’ political past, including what Steve joked were medals awarded to the first hipsters (large coins with bearded men’s faces on).
The Court Room was small but dominated by a giant fireplace, surrounded by stunning wood carvings. These featured several of the historic royal family, along with innumerable other intricate details, shaped out of dark wood that seemed almost to glow from within. It was the kinds of mesmerising artwork you could stare at for ages, to search out every detail and contemplate how the artist achieved the feat. But we were ushered out as the building was closing for lunch.
Thanks to our epic breakfast we still weren’t hungry, so instead decided to wander while we waited for the Basilica to open at 2pm. We found famous shop The Chocolate Line and ducked in to marvel at the crazy creations in there, including chocolates flavoured with curry and all manner of other unexpected flavours. Steve bought a box of pralines thinking it would be fail-safe and only found out when he got home that his box contained all the weirdest flavours!
Afterwards we explored town a bit more, reaching the Concertgebouw (which on a Sunday, appeared shut) and the surreal group of statues and fountains in front of it. As soon as the clock struck 2pm we returned to the Basilica, just in time for the bizarre spectacle that is the ‘reveration of the holy blood’. We stayed just long enough to glimpse the famed vial and watch the first person going up to touch it, before quietly slinking out the back…
A crisis hits
It was at around this point that Steve got a text message from Eurostar, informing him that our train back to London that night had been cancelled due to the tunnel being flooded. We had to find out what on earth we were going to do tonight, and fast. It wasn’t hard finding wifi but the Eurostar website didn’t tell us anything useful anyway, so we decided to try calling them – the operative word being ‘try’. In the time Steve was on hold on the phone, we went into two tea rooms and left them because they weren’t doing waffles, and actually ordered and ate some disappointing waffles at another tea room called Prestige Patisserie (they were cold and accompanied by cold, hard butter)! Yet after failing to get through for an hour, we gave up and decided to just discover our fate at Brussels’ Eurostar terminal.
But not before doing some final bits of shopping! I still needed to buy some chocolate, so we ducked into a small boutique called Chocolat Oe Praline where we were immediately offered free samples of creamy white chocolate ‘crisps’. I didn’t need any more persuading, and proceeded to fill a wicker basket with variously flavoured chocolate cubes on sticks for stirring in hot milk to make hot chocolate, and my own selection of chocolates from the glass counter.
Our next stop was the Timmerman’s Brewery beer shop just a few doors down, in which we were immediately offered an in-depth explanation of Belgian beers and free tastings of different ones, including a very sour, two-year aged pure lambic beer that tasted more like sherry! Steve bought a six-pack of the brewery’s trademark beer (Bourgogne des Flandres) while I bought four fruity lambic beers in peach, strawberry, raspberry and cherry.
Fully stocked with chocolates and beer, we walked back to Bruges station and caught the train to Brussels. At the Eurostar terminal we found two staff members explaining to groups of other lost people that Eurostar would be putting us stranded tourists in hotels for the night – hooray! After queuing and at the front giving our details to another member of staff, we were told that they’d booked us into the Ibis hotel next to the station, which we should go to and check in. So next we went to queue at the hotel, along with so many others that we completely filled the entrance hall! But the queuing paid off once we were finally inside our *free* hotel room and deciding where to eat our *free* dinner (we’d been told we could claim it back!)
After some TripAdvisor browsing we decided on L’Escala as the closest restaurant with the best rating. We didn’t enjoy the walk through the rain and the rough area around Brussels Midi Zuid station (and back past our first hotel of the weekend!) but that was forgotten immediately upon stepping into the restaurant.
L’Escala’s creamy-coloured decor, sophisticated bar and warm, relaxed atmosphere immediately put us at ease – it was a haven away from the gloom outside. Beginning with our customary rose wine and local beer, I ordered the chicken waterzooi (a Belgian dish of chicken in a white, slightly cheesy casserole) for which I’d been hankering all weekend and Steve the confit duck leg. Both were delicious, as were the apple tart and pancakes we had for dessert. We slept very well that night!
In the morning we enjoyed our *free* buffet breakfast, which to my delight included toasting waffles and the accompaniments of maple syrup and powdered sugar! Upon returning to the Eurostar terminal in Brussesls station we were informed that we couldn’t get a train back to London until midday, so at a loss of better things to do we caught the metro to the Grand Place to have a walk around. Having been to Brussels before, we weren’t particularly bothered about seeing Mannequin Pis and all the Tin Tin street art again but it was a better use of time than sitting in Brussels station!
After this brief interlude, it was back on the Eurostar for another delightful miniature meal, more wine, more tea and a nice, long sleep in my comfy seat.
All text and photos (c) Juliet Langton, 2015. All rights reserved.