In Brussels we were in a nice B&B in a suburb of the city called Ixelles. On the map it looks close, but it was a 20 minute bus ride to the centre and Nick really was not well, coughing and spluttering. So, on the day we arrived by train from Amsterdam (train travel went quite smoothly despite the extra luggage) we bussed it into the city. We alighted at a lovely covered arcade, the Galeries Royale St Hubert which is called the oldest in Europe but is certainly predated by some in Paris. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galeries_Royales_Saint-Hubert
What a delight it is though, with treasure shops of chocolates and jewellery, bags, shoes, gloves and more chocolates. Did I mention chocolates!? I must admit I came back later in the afternoon for the glove shop.
This led through to the Grande Place which is very large, dominated by an ostentatious town hall and surrounded by cafes selling beer and chocolate and waffles. It was cold and damp so we had a hot chocolate in a cafe where the staff really didn’t care, and took some photos. We also wandered through tourist hell (or heaven depending on your outlook) streets of cafes selling moules frites for E12, a price I was to remember when they were double that in Brugge.
We walked towards the cathedral but it had lots of steps and Nick’s breathing was heavy. We went home, had an excellent local dinner at an Italian place where English was not heard among the patrons, and went to bed. Next day he stayed in bed, dosed up on Vitamin C, while I did the laundry. In the evening we wandered into the village and had dinner at the Irish pub (meeting a patron from Ireland who had worked at Blacktown in Sydney) and bed early. Brussels was not particularly kind to us with the cold, damp weather.
Next morning Nick was lots better. Train to Brugge, partially filled with school excursions but we did well. We did even better with our choice of B&B. Almost in the centre of town, with a larger than life host, Kees and his charming partner Kathleen. They had converted two old houses into a modern haven inside and we had a gorgeous room with a view over the back garden and koi pond to the canal and park. A huge bed, a walk in shower on stone tiled floors, even an elevator, and as much information about the town as you would want. http://www.bb-speelmansrei-brugge.be Highly recommended.
Into the centre to another Grand Place with enormous civil buildings to show the wealth of the town. The weekly market was in progress when we arrived but by the time we had finished lunch at one of the many tourist restaurants on the square, they had all cleaned up and gone.
We took the obligatory canal boat excursion (the only craft on the city waterways) to see the beautiful architecture.
After a wonderful and plentiful breakfast, Kees planned a tour of the city for us and we managed most of it. Along canals, through squares, Our Lady Church, the museum, St John Hospital and finishing at the brewery. A full day but very good.
The first church we visited, The Church of Our Lady, was under very heavy repair but we could access some of the art. Nothing like having the only Michangelo sculpture outside Italy at the time. I also loved this unnamed annunciation, part of a folding altar.
The Gronening museum was excellent with purely Flemish art just about up to the present. I was delighted to come across an Hieronymous Bosch which didn’t photograph too well, (click on it to enlarge) but also a lovely Memmling Annunciation.
On to the old hospital of St John, which had displays of instruments and the religious things they mostly relied on for their patients. A painting showed the rows of curtained alcoves which has once held the beds, and photos of some of the later nuns in their voluminous habits. Not as informative as I had expected. I did like the huge attic area and the several lovely retables (altar backs)
We also saw the “Flying Civil Servants” exhibition from Stephane Halleux which is adorable and I want them all. We saw some earlier ones in Paris several years ago. But a) I can’t afford them and b) they were all sold out.
Finally, that awaited beer, and a picture of a local gent enjoying his lunch.
We had a bit of difficulty finding an ATM in Brugge. Be warned; there appear to be two in the old town. One, Europabank, took us to the last step and then said a temporary problem prevented payment. We are still pursuing this with Citi as we each were charged despite getting no money. (It took us 8 weeks to have that repaid) The ING branch came good however and we could pay for the accommodation.
Brugge was kinder with the weather, very pretty and walkable and the accommodation close to the sights. It would be easy to stay in tourist central and think the place rather Disneyfied, but a few streets away is a beautiful, authentic city where the citizens live and work and the architecture is absolutely amazing.
Next stop: Arras and thus into France