I don’t know why I’m surprised that I fell in love with Bruges. It’s a beautiful small, historic city with lovely architecture, chocolate, beer, waffles, art, chocolate, frites, beer, shopping, chocolate, and, yes, more chocolate.
Bruges was a thriving port until silt built up in the inlet from the North Sea, making trade by ship difficult. A canal was built at the beginning of the 20th century to reignite trade and bring the city back to life. In the 500 years between, poets and artists hung around Bruges to, you know, do their thing. Maybe drink some beer. Their influence remains, giving the old city a sophisticated yet inviting charm.
I had 7 hours and 50 minutes to take it all in. I had no agenda other than to do whatever I pleased. (To exclude checking into a hotel to nap.) So I wandered.
I wandered right past a lovely cathedral when a Picasso exhibition poster caught my eye. This collection of works by Pablo Picasso and his contemporaries and influences (Miro, Matisse, Rodin, Chagall to name a few) is housed in Site Oud Sint-Jan, a 19th century (former) hospital.
I won’t argue that this exhibit has universal appeal, but I absolutely loved the sketches and letters, the story of Picasso’s artistic journey and the works by the other artists. Perhaps I would have been disappointed if I hadn’t seen Picasso’s paintings elsewhere; I really enjoyed the collection.
Then it was time to eat. At Casey’s recommendation, I found Cambrinus. My solo status relegated me to the bar, but I enjoyed my Duvel and delicious tomato soup with meatballs nonetheless. (This lunch was strategic.)
Next I tackled the Belfort (belfry) to justify the waffle and frites in my near future. I waited 45 minutes (accompanied by a cellist in the courtyard) to climb the 366 steps to the top for a bird’s eye view of the city.
The 3:00 chime wasn’t nearly as deafening as I expected it to be. The view was magnificent.
So was the waffle with chocolate sauce from Chez Albert. The frites I had later were pretty great, too.
I dedicated the rest of my day to aimless wandering. Over the canals, past the art market, to the Burg. Perhaps I should have wandered into a church or cathedral, or waited around for a canal tour, but I really wanted to take in the city.
The buskers were busking, the sun was glinting off gilded gold and windows, the horses were clop-clopping down the streets…it was too good to miss.
My unspoken goal was to find some speculoos to bring home. It’s the insider’s secret of Belgian deliciousness. No one tells you to GET SPECULOOS IF YOU GO TO BELGIUM. Until now. (You’re welcome.) It’s a crunchy cookie, almost gingery but not. A spiced shortbread, but not that soft. Do you know biscoff? Like that. You can also find it in a spread, which is a must-have topping for a waffle, should you get the chance (in Brussels?). But I digress. I found amazing speculoos at Juliette’s bakery, and I highly recommend you get some, too.
I stopped in Koningin Astridpark and heard my body say, “You’re about done.” It was time for a beer and some journaling. I chose to hide out in a wine bar to avoid my drunk compatriots. You know you just won’t find groups of sh*tfaced Americans at a wine bar in Belgium. (Instead, you find Brazilian InBev reps who are looking for someone to talk to about topics unrelated to illegal fireworks and getting blackout drunk.)
In retrospect, there is so much I missed in my day in Bruges, but it was exactly what I needed. Go if you get a chance. You won’t regret it!