Amazing stay in Brugge!
We loved, loved, loved this hotel! We live in Munich and my 3 siblings were traveling with us to Brussels, Brugge and then Paris. This has been the best hotel in ALL of our european stays!
We had 1 double room (the beamed room, overlooking the canal) and a triple for my siblings (right next door to the beam room). Both rooms were great- they all come with roomy baths, comfy beds and character. And there is a lift/elevator for your luggage, which is nice. But what makes this hotel is the staff! They go out of their way to help you (dinner reservations/recommendations, maps, discount tickets for museums, hold your luggage, etc), free internet, they lend you bikes for free as long as you are in town, and their breakfast (which is included in your room price!) is awesome. We will never stay anywhere other than Hotel Adornes in Brugge, as we'll definitely be back.
* Brugge tips: Dont miss eating at the Jupiler tavern across the street from Hotel Adornes, best food on our whole trip and super nice owners. Give yourself enough time to just wander the streets and eat chocolate. We saw plenty of people kayaking the canals, which looked like so much fun - even in March!
* Personal note: If you are thinking of taking a trip to Belgium and considering Brussels and/or Brugge, how much time to spend in each place, etc, we definitely recommend skipping or only 1 day in Brussels, and more time in Brugge. Brussels was dirty, not as much to see as you would think, and pretty boring. Brugge is more like a small scale Amsterdam with great food, breweries to visit, feels more un-touristy than many other european cities, and is amazingly pretty with the canals/old architecture/etc.
After Brussels, Brugge
We were staying in Brussels...
Monday, 19 March, to Brugge
It rained off and on this morning, but we got to Gare Centrale without getting too wet. Jacky researched platforms while I queued for tickets, and we had about four minutes to await our train. It stopped first in Gent, then in Brugge. No more French, now that we’ve left Brussels; now it’s Nederlands.
By the time we reached the countryside, the weather was letting up and the sunny green fields were quite attractive as we sped to the west. We just hope the black clouds on the horizon are not harbingers of weather to come.
It was only an hour to Brugge. We looked for a sign saying Centrum and walked that direction. Our hotel – Adornes – is in the Ste Anna quarter on beyond the Centrum. We took what turned out to be a pretty direct route, though it could have been a bit shorter had we known exactly where on St Annarei the hotel was located (it was at the north end; we went first to the south end). Cold, sunny, windy. Nice day, nice town.
Hotel Vendôme in Brussels had been businesslike – and friendly. The Adornes in Brugge was friendly – and businesslike. Very pleasant young woman took our bags, gave us a map showing a recommended walking tour, a discount card for museums, together with tickets for free entry to any one of them. She invited us to take a couple of their free bikes, now or later, but it’s cold and windy, and we like walking anyway. We set off to explore; for lack of alternatives, we simply followed the recommended itinerary.
What a great town! The streets are paved with stone; some have sidewalks. None have wide sidewalks. There are equal numbers of cars, bicycles and horse-drawn carriages (the streets tidy because the horses wear leather diapers). Yes, this is a tourist town, but there’s also evidence of real people living here. More real than Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Brugge is full of little canals, mostly empty at this season, occupied only by small sightseeing boats. There are a lot of nice water vistas.
It was so cold there were even a few snowflakes in the air. Now and then a bit of rain, but the clouds blew over and we ended up with a brisk, windy, mostly sunny day. Glad I had a winter coat, wish I had brought a pair of gloves. Jacky stopped to buy a scarf, which provided endless entertainment as she draped it, wrapped it, tied it and otherwise burrowed into it.
The scramble of old streets yields a square every block or two, and many are interesting.
I think these women are students of lacemaking, at least as much as journeymen.
After touring the lace museum and checking out the windmills, we returned to the hotel to rest the eyes and feet.
We got a nice room, #7, overlooking the canal. The building opposite was built in 1761. Really nice to watch the way the cars and bikes negotiate through the interections on either side of the bridge, nary a stop sign in sight, no stress, no hurry.
What a great day, what a great city!
We went out again about 6. Natural food? Egyptian? Both were quite close to the hotel, choices for the morrow if it’s raining, perhaps. But there was a Chinese restaurant just off the Markt where we got a good meal and enjoyed dark Trappist Westmalle beer.
Back to the hotel by 8. Seems a shame to pack it in so early, but we didn’t need any more alcohol or calories, and most public evening activities involve the consumption of one or both.
Tuesday, 20 March, Brugge, Damme
I went out for a quick walk at sunrise, since breakfast isn’t available until 8. Nice view of the windmill. They have names; this is St Janshuysmolen, dating from 1770. (Molen means mill.)
Walked down to see one of the old city gates (Kruispoort), which turned out not to be that interesting. The staggered access I mentioned above serves a useful modern-day purpose: each bridge serves a separate direction of automotive traffic. Back for breakfast through a partly-sunny, chilly morning. As always in Europe (France excepted), the hotel offered a fine breakfast – even fresh fruit, which was lacking in Brussels.
Watching the cyclists and the cars out the window again. The bridge is only a few feet of rise, but it’s work for the riders, who have only one-speed bikes. Then I started looking, and probably two-thirds of them are multi-speed bikes, either with hub shifters or with full deraileurs. You can’t tell by the handlebars, the saddle, the chain guard, or anything else. You can’t tell by the way they ride, either.
We had thought to go to Damme; the hotel offered free bikes. We have reservations about cycling without helmets; we had reservations about the bikes themselves (we didn’t inspect them, but the standard Belgian bike is very, shall we say, utilitarian). And in this cold, I had reservations about not having brought a pair of gloves. There’s a ferry down the canal, but it doesn’t begin service until April.
Then we found that it’s not 20 km to Damme as I had guessed, but somewhere between 5 and 7 km, depending on who you believe. So we just walked.
On the way out of Brugge, we came upon a do-it-yourself drawbridge. On this side, there’s a boat landing, so you could climb up onto the roadway and raise the bridge, but you’d be out of luck if your boat were on the other side of the bridge. This could be either before or after raising the drawbridge.
The canal to Damme runs in two straight reaches of about equal length. As we surmised, there’s a recreation trail atop the dike on one side, and a side road with very little traffic on the other side.
Pretty country, some nice houses in the countryside. The cold wind made it a bit less than fun. We saw thousands of what looked much like the snowflowers you see in the Sierra. In the US, they’re an endangered species; obviously not their Belgian cousins.
As you come into Damme, you see a statue dedicated to Tijl Uilenspiegel. He’s standing there with a pair of mirrors; ok, that explains the Spiegel. Two owls stand there facing him; that explains the Uilen. There were also a couple of crows and a donkey. Don’t know their significance. According to the bumpf, the Flemish Tijl is a fairly recent invention.
Sometimes, Tijl is even spelled Tyl. This is natural when you see it hand-written, where the “ij” looks like a ÿ. In signs, you frequently see the I sitting just above the curve of the J, the pair looking like a U with a little gap in it. So a printing establishment (Drukkerij) is likely to have a sign that looks like Drukkeru.
“Uilenspiegel was born in the Flemish town of Damme. Uilenspiegel is the symbol of the Flemish popular soul and untameable Beggar and buffoon. Strangely enough, this description dates from recent times. It was the work of the French-Flemish novelist Charles De Coster (La Légende d'Ulenspiegel et de Lamme Goedzak, 1867). The original Uilenspiegel, written about 1500, is a totally different character. The Low German Ulenspiegel is a wicked crook. With him, the social-conservative Bote wanted to hold up a mirror: do not do what Ulenspiegel did. Bote's work was incredibly successful and spread all over Europe. Almost uninterruptedly it was re-published and edited up to far in the 19th century.
“De Coster's novel is a U-turn in the Uilenspiegel tradition. The sharp edges of the develish rogue were smoothed down to roguish tricks of a witty wag. Tijl is confronted with the fanatical Spanish king Philip II and is presented in the frontlines of the Dutch insurrection. From this moment onwards, Uilenspiegel is used for a wide variety of purposes. In the Uilenspiegel museum the visitor will discover the many faces of Uilenspiegel, but as well the cultural historical context which gave origin to this image.”
The Stadhuis is considerably smaller than the others we’ve seen, in keeping with Damme’s semi-rural status (though it was once heir to Brugge, Damme is only a couple thousand people today). We sought out the SI for washrooms and an opportunity to warm up a little. They displayed old maps that showed a fortified moat around Damme. We hunted for their remains, but found only a short section of mound with a halo-polishing sign. Not much to explore. There’s a church with a ruined nave. Tours of the tower are available from April to October. The churchyard was open; first bury patch we’ve visited, not interesting.
We had warmed up, and weren’t hungry, so we skipped the tea houses and crossed the canal. Belgian farmhouses always remind me of Snoopy, having been shot down by the Red Baron. There’s also an old mill, known as Schellemolen. Two large grindstones in the yard reveal its purpose. Recall that the entire body of the mills in Brugge turned into the wind; here, only the top does. Returned on the mill side of the canal. We walked the road, rather than atop the dike, which gave us a little shelter from the cold wind. The wind was a bit more to rearward, as well.
We saw one (and only one) blue heron. He caught a fish just as I caught him.
We saw the Lamme Goedzak, the stern-wheel ferry that, in season, saves Damme visitors from having to walk the distance from Brugge.
Sore feet. Stopped at the hotel to warm up and perform foot repairs. Went out for some shopping and exploring. Jacky bought chocolates in a supermarket: probably the same product and likely less expensive than in a tourist-trap gift shop. It took a while to find a place where she could buy some lace. I bought some film and sought out an Apotheek. It was still cold, our feet were still sore, so we returned to the hotel.
Out again after naps. We naturally gravitated into a pub that advertised 40 kinds of beer. We sat as far as we could from the smokers and enjoyed two excellent choices: Gulden Draak (golden dragon) for me, and the local brew, Brugse Straffe Hendrik for Jacky. Fun watching people on the street.
We were on Kuiperstraat just behind the Schouwburg – the city theatre – and saw musicians arriving for a performance this evening. According to the posters, Sir Colin Davis is conducting a musical play, The Lighthouse. If it’s a Nederlands-language play, we likely wouldn’t get much out of it. Too bad it’s not just music.
5:30, and the Egyptian restaurant on Academiestraat was just open. We got big plates of shoarma (the local spelling of shawarma) and veggies. I got some of the famed Belgian frites, which were ok but nothing special. Another good brew, this time Pauwel Kwak. And all for BF 840.
Onward! to Gent
T’Zand is a large open square, too large when it’s empty. Flood it and it would make a great skating rink. Maybe there’s a market here on some days; that would help. Its main attraction is the statues – they are not yet fountains, but will be when the weather warms up. The figure at the top is Tijl Uilenspiegel, watching out for his native Damme (more on this later).
Brugge has a well-known Begijnhof, well worth a visit. The daffodils in the common area made it delightful.
We had to take a look at the Minnewater, of course, rendered in English as the lake of love. The swans were too busy scratching to pose for a picture.
Visited St John’s, an old hospital, now shops. The Memling museum is in the same building, but closed for renovations. One of the disadvantages of coming during the off season. The church of our lady was also closed for works.
It was a bit after noon; our feet were tired. We were warned that Tuesday is Ruhetag here. Of the available museums, we thought the Gruuthuse mansion sounded most interesting. But first, a stop in a tea house for Belgian waffles with chocolate sauce. I even had Eis on mine! Pretty decadent.
“This most diverse of all the Bruges Museums is situated in the ‘House of Gruuthuse’ which belonged in the late middle ages to the family Van Brugghe-van der Aa, aka the lords of ‘Gruuthuse’. This family owned the monopoly of ‘Gruut’ selling. Gruut was a medieval mixture of spices used to make beer.”
We pick up some perspective on English by decoding the Nederlands. What, for example, is the connection between the German Fenster and the English window? The Nederlands word Venster provides a clue: it’s the same root as vent.
Everywhere, we saw horizontal racks, poles and twine, on which vines or even trees will doubtless form attractive bowers in a month or two. Another horticultural observation we made was that pollarding is extremely popular in Belgium. Everywhere we went, pollarded trees; even some of the old paintings showed pollarded trees.
We toured the Gruuthuse museum. Part of owning a mansion was having a fireplace in every room – and I bet it was still cold and drafty. The kitchen fireplace was big enough to roast an ox! Some interesting furniture, pewter, etched glass, but mostly paintings of old Brugge, so precise as to be almost photographic, and showing scenes still visible today. There were loud groups of schoolkids going through; we tried to arrange our stops so they could flow past us (or should that be fly?).
I remember seeing a private chapel in Nürnberg, a hole in the ceiling of the main church below, so the royalty could attend services without stepping outside, and without being seen by the plebians. Well, the Gruuthuse mansion had the same arrangement, but the private chapel was paneled in wood and the chairs were upholstered in velvet. Considerably nicer than Nürnberg.
There were also a number of old maps of Brugge. Most interesting was the fact that, at some time in the past, the ring canal was a double moat (with an island down the median), and the two inner shores were fortified. Most of the city gates crossed only the inner moat; a simple bridge spanned the outer moat, but it was staggered from the gate, so there could be no direct approach with, say, a battering ram. Today the outer part – I think – is the ring road.
Saw the first sundial of the trip, a vertical one. It was almost an hour off from my watch. Local mean time, I imagine, quite different from middle-European standard time.
We’re getting pretty good at guessing Nederlands words, since the language falls nicely between German and English. Actually, I recall hearing that Nederlands was almost English – but I think I heard this from my German friends. To us, as native English speakers, Nederlands looks as if it’s almost German. Neither fish nor fowl, in fact.
Back to the Markt.
To see the Jerusalem church, you first pay admission to the lace centre. A very unusual edifice, narrow and tall. Didn’t find out who the entombed couple might be until I started writing up diaries after we got home – it’s the original Adornes family. How ’bout that! – Adornes is also our family-operated hotel!
“The Jerusalem church has preserved its original style almost completely, which is quite rare in Belgium. Furthermore, the church is still privately owned. The church belonged to the Adornes family, a family of merchants who came from Genoa in Italy to 13th century Bruges. Their descendants still own the Jerusalem church today.
“During the 14th century one of the members of the Adornes family had a chapel built. This prayer house was later extended and even rebuilt. The church that resulted from these transformations was finished by 1470. It is believed that the design was copied from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, which some of the members of the family had visited. The interior consists of a nave and a higher choir. In the middle of the church is the tomb of Anselm Adornes and his wife (Vander Banck). Anselm died in 1483. The decoration is still quite remarkable, divers and yet coherent. The beautiful stained glass windows date from 1482 and 1560. Behind the lower altar is a small space which suggests the tomb of Christ.”