Bon Voyage: Bruges, Belgium

Admittedly, Valentine’s Day is generally seen as a hallmark event–a terrible night to try and get a reservation, tacky cards, and bad chocolate.  Growing up, Valentine’s was actually a fully celebrated holiday in our household.  The Doc thinks this is weird and has made me aware that not all families take Valentine’s as seriously as mine.   I blame my parents, but I look forward to Feb. 14 every year and have developed pretty high expectations.

With no call schedule to worry about or late hours in the hospital, we wanted to plan something fun to celebrate this year and opted for a weekend away in the charming Flemish city of Bruges.  The Doc and I took a half day on Friday and hopped on the Eurostar for a quick 3-hour train journey to the  northwest corner of Belgium.

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Known for beer, chocolate, and lace, Bruges has a similar feel to Amsterdam, though much smaller and without the more illicit activities that Amsterdam claims.  Plenty of canals, cobblestone streets, and medieval architecture make it a great city to explore on foot.

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We arrived in time for a late dinner Friday night at Kok Au Vin, a lovely little bistro serving modern Flemish cuisine.  With the menus only in Dutch and French, we had to be a little adventurous in our ordering, but we were not disappointed.  We followed up dinner with a night cap at Comptoir des Arts, an underground candlelit beer bar, that was quite a hidden gem.  The night was relaxed, with great food and a few good drinks–a perfect Valentine’s!

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After a rather disappointing brunch Saturday morning, we set out on a walking tour of Bruges that took us through historic squares and beautiful old neighborhoods.

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IMG_0620the Markt

IMG_0623the Burg–where’s Waldo??

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IMG_0628the Belfry (built in 1240) in the background

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IMG_0637the Beguinages–UNESCO world heritage site–community of Catholic nuns

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The walking tour ended at De Halve Maan brewery, which has been brewing Belgian beer since 1856.  Most famous for the ‘Brugse Zot’ pale blond ale, its worth a visit to the brewery to try the Zot.  The walking tour morphed into a pub tour and we stopped by several other ‘brewpubs’ on our way back to the flat.  If in Bruges, definitely make time to go to De Garre, down a tiny hidden alley between the Burg and Markt, and ‘t Brugs Beertje, just north of Markt.
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IMG_0640-2healthy snack en route to De Garre
After a great day of exploring the town, we ended it with a dinner at Gran Kaffee de Passage, a lively restaurant/cafe in the center of town.  The food was cheap and very good–I would definitely recommend.
We woke up Sunday to a sunny and mild day and set out to explore the eastern side of town, which is less touristy than the center.
photo 3Breakfast of champions

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Part of Bruges’ charm is how manageable it is.  It’s small enough that you don’t ever need take a taxi or a bus, and you can easily get a full sense of the city in a weekend.    While we didn’t find any good lace to buy, we brought back plenty of chocolate and Belgian beer to happily enjoy in London.

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TTN:

Travel–take the Eurostar to Brussels (2 hrs) and transfer to a regional train to Bruges (1hr), which is included in the price of the Eurostar ticket.

Train station–the train station in Bruges is a 20-minute walk from the center of town, or a 5-minute taxi ride. At night and with luggage, I would take a taxi.

Food–it’s easy to fall into tourist traps so do some research before you go.  We loved both of our dinner spots but fell short on the lunches.  Definitely save room for a fresh belgian waffle, the best we had was from a van in the Burg square.

Stay–we stayed at this AirBnB and would recommend it.  A convenient location in the town center, plenty of space, and a very nice owner.

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Sweet Home Alabama (& Georgia)

January is a pretty dreary month in London.  The hangover from a solid month of holiday celebrations sets in, days are short, and the weather leaves much to be desired.  In fact, I think you could set a daily forecast of ‘High 48, Low 42, Rain likely’ and be accurate 98% of the time…maybe don’t come visit in January.

All negativity aside, January for us was not dreary at all.  Since we stayed in London for the holidays, we loved catching up with our friends as they arrived back from the US and eagerly anticipated our own trip back home later in the month.  January 18th came in the blink of an eye and off we went to the States to visit with family, friends, and celebrate one of my best friend’s wedding.

The Doc hadn’t been home since we moved to London, and it had been six months since I had been back, so we had lots to catch up on.  It was an amazing week of seeing old friends, visiting with and being spoiled by our family, and eating all of our favorite foods (LOTS of Mexican).  Despite having to take care of some no-so-fun things (ie, the dentist/doctor/hair cutter) being at home was really, really nice.

The highlight of the week was seeing one of my oldest and dearest friends get married.  I’ve known Kate since pre-school, and despite a short separation in elementary school, we have been very close friends most of our lives.  While I have hated missing out on all the pre-wedding festivities, every minute of the wedding weekend was a blast:

IMG_0589Table arrangements at bridesmaid luncheon

IMG_0593BM luncheon

IMG_0596-2the Bridal Party at the BM luncheon

photo 3(6)highschool friends post rehearsal dinner

IMG_0604-2stunning dress

IMG_0608waiting to see it all come together

IMG_0607stunning BRIDE

photo 2(7)just a couple of maids

photo 1(7)me & the bride

Kate was an incredibly calm bride, which I think is attributed to how blissfully happy she is with her new husband.  They are adorable, all of their friends are a blast, and the whole weekend was such a fun celebration of the newlyweds.  Couldn’t have been more honored to be part of it all.

The Doc and I packed up our bags, said our goodbyes, and flew back to London on the red-eye Sunday night.  We went straight to work on Monday, which was not fun, and then I got sick with a terrible cold.

Needless to say, last week was not nearly as fun as our trip back home, but we are rested and recovered now and are looking forward to fun trips that February has in store!