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Tim Foolery

Home » 2018 » June (Page 3)

Monthly Archives: June 2018

Bruges by Bike

We love to take bike tours when traveling. We find it is an amazing way to see the city from a local’s perspective, plus you get to cover more area than you normally would by foot. We’ve taken bike tours in Paris, London, Barcelona, Mexico City, Vietnam, Shanghai and South Africa (and more). Belgium is known as a bicyclists’ country (maybe not as well known as the Netherlands though). We didn’t spend much time researching various operators in Bruges, but after spending a few minutes on TripAdvisor and reviewing a couple of blogs, we settled on Quasimundo Bike Tours.

These folks were located just a few minute walk from our hotel and offered tours in Dutch and English normally, but you can get other languages if you request ahead (French is available, and I believe you can get Spanish and German too).  When we arrived there were about 20 people waiting outside for the tour and I started to have real regrets.  Large bike tours like this really lose a lot.  People have varying levels of cycling ability and interest, the guide is spending much more time ensuring the tourees are with the group and has less time to actually give the tour itself.  Luckily, most of these people were heading out on the Dutch language tour – the English tour had just six people (including us).

The tour is billed at around 2.5 hours, departing at 10h00.  Our guide showed up a little after 10h00 and we left at  10h15 as he had a flat tire on his commuter bike.  The guide was very relaxed and extremely knowledgeable.  He effortlessly guided us through the compact city, stopping at sites that were historically, culturally or visually important.  He wasn’t too big on lots of dates and names, as he says, you’ll just forget them anyway, but he did throw out key dates and wove a story connecting each of our stops.

A quaint residential street in Bruges

The canals of Bruges

The canals made the city so picturesque

Bruges is truly a beautiful city

We also stopped off at the oldest continuously operating pub in the city and had a lovely sour beer that is locally brewed.  Being a World Heritage Site imposes some interesting restrictions on a city.  For example, you are to limit the number of trucks going around your historic quarters.  This posed quite the problem for the brewers who had been in Bruges for centuries – if you can’t transport by truck, how do you get your sudsy creations to consumers?  One brewery built an underground pipeline from the historic center to the suburban distribution center.  They didn’t want to pack up and leave their home, but couldn’t grow their business without massive trucks – a simple yet inventive idea.

Bruges was hosting a large public art event when we were there. This whale was donated by Hawaii and made exclusively from plastic found in the ocean.

A classic view – canals, public art and the belfry

A view from the windmill

One of the few remaining windmills in Bruges.

We enjoyed our tour – we got to see some wonderful sites and hear fun and interesting tales.  We did not bike to the two main squares or the cathedrals that Bruges is known for.  This was intentional as those sites are better explored on foot and they would have eaten up quite a bit of our tour time.  Plus those are very easy for tourists to do without a guide.

For 28€/person this was a great way to spent a few hours and allowed us to see parts of the city that we definitely wouldn’t have been exposed to on our own.

Do you take bike tours when you travel?  What is your favorite place to explore by bike?

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Nuit Blanche – Guesthouse Bruges

I’m usually a Starwood guy and you can often find some beautiful Starwood Properties in Europe like the Prince de Galles Hotel in Paris, Hotel Bristol in Vienna, Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville.  Unfortunately, Belgium didn’t have ANY aspiration Starwood properties, so we decided to stay local. Using TripAdvisor, Booking.com and blogs, we found each of our hotels for this quick trip.

After landing in Brussels, we immediately grabbed the rental car and headed out of the de facto capital of Europe.  We arrived at the “Venice of the North” shortly after 11h00 and after a little GPS-induced confusion, we parked our car and schlepped our luggage to our hotel – there is no onsite parking at Nuit Blanche.

The Nuit Blanche is a two room guesthouse, located right on the Gruuthuse canal and adjacent to the Church of Our Lady immediately connected to the Lover’s Bridge.  Like our confusing experience at Abbaye de Maizieres in Beaune, we couldn’t figure out how to get in the front door. Luckily another guest came by and let us in the hotel. Evidently you need an access code that isn’t given to you until you check in, but you can’t check in until you enter the hotel.  A little chicken or the egg scenario, don’t you think?

The building adjacent to our hotel – could you find a more lovely view?

The Nuit Blanche is housed in a building from the 1450s and it was also the place where the current King and Queen of Belgium spent part of their honeymoon.  We were given the room on the top floor, which was pretty large with a king bed. There wasn’t really any area to relax, but there was a small dining table where you could take your breakfast each day, if you’d like.  We dined in the common breakfast area both days of our visit.

Our bed covered with a heart made of (fake) rose pedals.

While we didn’t have use of a fireplace during our very warm visit, it added great character to our room.

The toilet was open to the rest of the bathroom, but considering bathrooms weren’t standard when this building was constructed, I’ve got no complaints.

The tub with a beautiful tile surround.

A single sink isn’t ideal, but one can overlook such things when everything else is so charming.

The room didn’t have air conditioning, which wasn’t too much of a problem as the two windows, when opened, provided the most wonderful cross breeze cooling the room to a perfect temperature.

Much like our Memorial Day trip to Paris in 2017, Belgium was unseasonably warm (31C every day), but the room wasn’t too warm at all. We slept with the windows open each night and since the back of the hotel backs up onto the museum and cathedral squares, which are closed to the public each night, it was very quiet.

Breakfast was included in our room rate and consisted of fresh fruit, a yogurt or rice pudding, a small sandwich and eggs “prepared on the whim of the chef”, which basically meant the eggs were cook however the chef wanted, and your only choices were to eat the eggs or not.  I’m not a big egg guy in general. The first day we had eggs sunny side up – I just picked out the tomatoes and made Mike eat one of the eggs. The second day we had scrambled eggs, again, I ate the eggs with bacon and tomatoes, but left most of the eggs.

The breakfast fruit plate was full of perfectly ripe treats.

We jumped into breakfast before I could take a proper picture. The tomatoes were great!

The breakfast sandwich was delectable.

Our host, Micheal, is an artist.  He displays his art throughout the hotel and opens up his studio to the public during the days.  The art we saw was mostly oils on canvas, with most of the subject being babies or fetuses. The dining room had babies in military attire and the color palate was grey and depressing.  To me, it was the artists take on the horrors of war and more specifically the impacts WWI had on the entire generation of young men and women. I didn’t talk to the artist about his canvases so I could be completely missing the point – I was really focused on WWI history during this part of the trip too.

The owner is quite the eccentric but was such a warm and welcoming host.  He spent 20 minutes with us and a tourist map of the city, outlining his favorite bars and restaurants.  Showing us where the hotels will send you, where other Americans will be (no thank you!), where he goes, where he doesn’t and why. It was really a nice and informative session.  He did this with every guest who was interested too.

I mention the owner as an eccentric because, interestingly enough, when we’d mention to a server or our bike tour guide, where we were staying they all hesitated for a moment, gave us a half smile and asked how the stay was.  Then immediately mentioned his eccentricities and how some people just didn’t like it. I have no clue as to what they were talking about – this guy was so personable and welcoming. Perhaps he’s a bit of a pain for the locals, he mentioned his constant vigilance in keeping Bruges tourist friendly, but sustainable and keeping others who are against those characteristics at bay.  I can imagine he would be a passionate pain in the neck at a City Council Meeting. That passion made him a wonderful host and in my opinion a true asset for the city.

I have no hesitation in recommending this place to future travelers and if, by chance, I end up in Bruges again, I would immediately look to book this property.  It is centrally located, clean, safe, reasonably priced and and the proprietor is a generous host.

Have you visited Bruges?  Did you spend the night (it seems like most people come in for the day and are gone by evening)?  What were your experiences like? Do you have any accommodation recommendations?

Holiday in Belgium – The Flanders Experience

As you likely read earlier, I found myself with a return ticket to Vienna on United (and Austrian) through Brussels. We weren’t really interested in visiting Vienna again. While I love that City and can’t wait to return, I was just there in March and was looking for something different. Belgium has been on our list for a while and I figured since I’d technically be flying through Brussels, I may as well just hop off the plane and explore.

I’m a pretty big World War I buff (not one of those nuts who reenact battles or anything, I just love reading personal stories about the war, watching shows that take place in and around the war and of course proper documentaries on the subject). Also, my favorite beers are Belgium beers, so it really seemed like a no-brainer. Since I had the ticket to Brussels, I just needed to find a way back home – which is exactly how I got into this “ticket to Brussels” situation in the first place. I’ve always wanted to try Brussels Airlines and this seemed like a perfect opportunity.

The canals in Ghent.

Leaving on a Friday and returning on a Wednesday wouldn’t leave me much time to explore, but we could see a couple of places. Like I always say, I’d rather leave a destination wishing I had just one more day than wishing I had left a day or two prior.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll detail the portions of the trip that I think will provide the most interest to you all. If I’m leaving anything out, just ask – and feel free to use the comments section. Not that I don’t like getting emails from you all – which I love and respond to every one – leaving a comment will help others as well.

St. Bavo’s Cathedral – Ghent, Belgium

We spent all of our time in Flanders, the Flemish part of the country, so I didn’t really get a chance to speak French at all. A bit disappointing – but I did deal with the Brussels Airport and the Brussels Airlines crew exclusively in French.

You’ll notice I don’t plan on writing about my flight over to Brussels. There was nothing important to write about. We flew coach. Tight seats. EconomyPlus Legroom. Mediocre Food. Nothing to talk about here. Keep Moving.

Are you planning a trip to Belgium anytime soon? If you’ve been, what was your favorite parts of Flanders? I will return to Wallonia to explore Chimay and practice my French.