Towards the end of October, Loums and I felt that we should do something to mark our five year anniversary, as we’re a big fan of celebrating things, and five years is very long time to be in a relationship with me. So, Loums came up with the great idea of going to Bruges. I had never been to the city itself, but I’d seen In Bruges, so I had a pretty clear idea of what we’d be getting ourselves into. I thought that just as long as we told Ralph Fines we loved it and neither of us accidentally shot an infant, we’d have a cracking time.
We met up after work at Gare du Nord and got the train to Brussels and then another onto Bruges, where we got in a taxi and went onto our Air BnB guesthouse, which was absolutely charming. We arrived quite late in the evening, around 10pm, our hostess was at work but she’d left us a key with instructions, so we dropped off our bags and headed back out into the Markt to find somewhere to have dinner. Most places had in fact stopped serving, but we managed to find a tardis of a restaurant called Filet Pur which was looked like a goth library: Lots of mahogany wood, burgundy walls, bookshelves embedded into the walls, a red candle on every surface and they cooked meat on an open fire. I chose the beef casserole which was loaded with thyme and garlic, and Loums chose a steak. I don’t usually eat red meat, but after such a long day and the crisp autumnal night air, a hearty casserole was exactly what I needed.
The next day we woke up bright and early, and bumped into another couple who were leaving after a two-night stay, and they gave us a handy tip of going to the Half Moon brewery. We then walked around in search of breakfast and stumbled upon a lovely little café called Le Pain Quotidien which first originated in Brussels and now is now although over world (although I’d never been to one). It’s decor reminded me of a British farm house in springtime. Their coffee was rich and roasted, the majority of the menu was organic, and their brunch was well priced. I chose scrambled egg with smoked salmon and avocado which also came with a couple of slices of sourdough bread and a selection of jams. We took our time, read the newspaper, slowly drank our coffee which we never have time to do back in the real world, it was the perfect way to start the weekend.
After walking around the city centre for a while and swooning over the buildings which looked like gingerbread houses. We went to visit the Basilica which was magnificent, small and ornate, before heading back to the Markt to climb up the Belfry. We probably should have done first before walking around for an hour, but hindsight is 20/20. The wait to go up wasn’t too long, and they let people through using a one out, one in policy so as not to create crowding on the narrow, winding stairs. We were lucky to visit on a beautiful autumn day so the view from even the highest level was crystal clear (see feature photo). The bells rung twice while we were up there and it was hypnotising to see the amount of mechanisms working together on each bell to create the music that rang out, literally, throughout the city.
Next we made our onto the Half moon brewery (de Halve Maan), which was by far and away the highlight of the trip, for more reasons than the delicious beer, is located just next to the idyllic Minnewater district. Our tour guide was a sweetheart of a man called Roland. He was funny, informative, sweet and engaged with everyone (yes, I have left a review on their website praising him). Brewing on that site began in the 1500s, and this year a two mile-long pipeline was built, running between the brewery itself and the bottling plant in the suburbs. We were taken to the top of the tall building, each floor held either a piece of the brewery’s top of the line brewing equipment, or tools used when the Maes family first set out on their endeavour. The reward of the company’s perseverance is a constant stream of visitors who set out to try the delicious Brugse Zot and Streffe Hendrik. We stayed in its restaurant for lunch and shared their impressive charcuterie board, before taking a stroll around the Minnewater lake.
For dinner that evening, I had reserved us a table at the Bistro Zwart Huis which I found after looking up ‘jazz restaurants in Bruges’, and it we knew we were in for a great evening the moment we stepped through the door. The authentic Flemish bistro is spread across two floors, the upper was the more public part of the restaurant, a brightly lit, tall room adorned with a chandelier here, a modern painting there, it was certainly the busiest section of the establishment. The lower floor was in fact underground, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and other Jazz legends provided the music, the room itself was a little more modern, with instruments and pieces of clothing of great musicians framed on every wall, everything was black, mirrors on every wall reflected the light of the chandeliers and the room’s huge fireplace created a much more intimate atmosphere.
All of the waiters and waitresses were obviously huge lovers of music and Loums and I both felt that we could really take our time and enjoy the evening. We started with an apéro, Loums took a gin and tonic made with Organic Swedish Gin, and I chose a Manhattan, both of which were served with a herring paté and fig chutney. For our mains, I chose Waterzooi (I hadn’t heard of it either), a Flemish fish stew which was creamy yet light, and Loums chose an Ostrich steak. For dessert I chose the tiramisu, and Loums the crème brûlée. It was a wonderful meal in a very unique restaurant, I would go back in a heartbeat. Afterwards, we then took a long stroll home, stopping by the Druids Cellar for a nightcap.
The next day we packed up our things and left them by the door before revisiting our lovely little café for breakfast. Our first stop of the day was The Chocolate Line, which is renowned as being one of, if not the best chocalaterie in Bruges. I didn’t want us to get caught up in a tourist trap of purchasing chocolate from a place whose products weren’t made in Belgium, so after a little bit of research, I found Dominique Personne’s famous chocolate shop and the originality of the flavours was worth getting there for the moment it opened at 10am.
As you enter, you’re greeted with a huge spread of chocolates and friendly staff waiting to send you away with box full of them. We asked for a box of thirty with the instructions: “One of each please, except for any white chocolate or marzipan. Thank you!” I could reel off each one we were given, but it would be much easier and pleasing to the eye if you took a look at their selection here. If I had to choose, my favourite was either Poppy (poppy seeds with praliné), or Hot Lips (bitter cacao with gin). Oh yeah, and they had a mural of what would have happened to Snow White had she lived in Bruges behind one of their displays.
Walking back through the city, we stopped to marvel at the famous Bruges Concert Hall, which, albeit doesn’t necessarily connect to the architectural theme of the city, but it’s magnificent and next time we go it would be brilliant to go to a performance. Back in the city centre along the riverside, we stumbled upon the classiest antique market I’d ever seen selling mirrors, trinkets, brass and copper everything, ceramic candle holders, gross cherub ornaments, it was seriously impressive and I wanted it all.
You can’t visit Bruges without taking a boat tour through the city’s canals, so that’s exactly what we did. Our captain spoke Flemish, German, French and English, he was hilarious and full of character and from the looks of it, that was the case for every captain. We were blessed with another beautiful, blue day, and for anyone doubting as to whether or not the tours are really worth it, they are. You are able to see the city in immense detail, it’s calming, everyone on board is chatting between their group or with other passengers and it’s just really bloody nice.
After the door we stopped off for a farewell drink at the legendary 2be, also known as The Beerwall bar with good reason, one side of the entrance to the bar is a wall of beer bottles, each one from every corner of Belgium. It’s perfectly situated on the riverside, it has a huge terrace encircling two sides of the bar with a great willow tree drooping providing shade for the clientele, and it rotates its beer selection every month. You can get tasters or a pint, we went for a pint each to be on the safe side, and we sat facing the river, basked in the sunshine and sampled a chocolate each from The Chocolate Line.
For our last meal, we stopped by Restaurant Diligence, a great looking seafood eaterie which we’d passed a few times on our travels, and as it was our last meal in Bruges, I of course chose Moules Marinère. We then headed back to the guesthouse, picked up our things and headed to the station to catch a train back to gay Paree.
I think we checked everything which is quintessential about Bruges off our list, and so next time, we can delve a little more deeply into the city, such as visit a few more museums, take a trip up to see the windmills surrounding the city, and eat at another of its famous restaurants. Until next time, Bruges, tot gauw ❤