Yes, yes, final part and all…
Part VI: Bruges, Ghent, Brussels & Austin
If you were to know one thing about Bruges, it should be that Bruges is an expensive town. The second things you’d want to know is that Bruges is extremely expensive. The third and final thing you’d want to know is that Bruges is very very expensive. Ok, I am exaggerating a bit, but Bruges was expensive. Amongst all the hotels I booked on the trip, Bruges was the most expensive one — well, it was a 4-star hotel (not that I have too much money, just that due to last minute Amsterdam addition, this was the best rate I could find!), and the service was exemplary — still, expensive. I reached Bruges at about 1 PM, having caught two trains to get there from Amsterdam and quickly reached the hotel using the efficient bus-system. The check in was not until 3 PM and I left he luggage there, checked Happy Cow for a nice veggie restaurant and found one. I walked to the place only to realize that the whimsical Belgians had decided that they did not want to do business on weekends and the place was closed! Since this was some distance from the center of town packed with restaurants, I had few choices and I went to an Indian restaurant I spotted on Google Maps. The place was nice and fancy and the service was equally poor and appalling, with the food listless. The empty place was run by (I think) a Pakistani who was so unfriendly (rare, generally people from the subcontinent are ok, especially if you speak in Hindi!) that I was pretty pissed by the end of the meal. I had a kadhai vegetable with one roti and a mango lassi (no water as usual in Europe, had to drink something!) and ended up coughing up 20 euros for the less-than-pleasant meal. At over 1200 rupees or 30$ I expect ambrosia, and all I got was chillis! The lackluster food and the travel through the morning and the lack of sleep — owing to the travel — made me a bit cranky and I was not happy with Bruges. I went back to my room — extremely small for the price; with a great bath though — and drew myself a nice long bath. The warm bath was followed by a much needed nap and I got up at around 4, refreshed and raring to go.
A cursory glance at Steves told me that every place would be closed by 5 and I decided to do the town walk according to the guidebook the next day. Instead, I got out with my camera and got lost — wandering through streets and discovering Bruges. I walked past the town square, filled with people and hit streets with just me on it. I passed sidewalks covered with bustling cafes and then hit sidewalks with closed down business. By the time I had decided what to do, I was wholly lost and had no idea where I was. That obviously was part of the plan. I finally opened my map and to my pleasant surprise realized that I was near the train station — a place which I wanted to visit in order to buy tickets for my journey back to Brussels early morning two days later. I walked up to the station, passing a wonderful park and my spirits were slowly starting to lift. I quickly bought the tickets that I needed, confirmed my itinerary and made my way back to the center of town, passing a couple of squares and clicking some photographs on the way. By the time I hit the town center, I had regained my mood and the town seemed brighter, more chaotic and more pleasant than it had some hours ago. It also helped that I found a cheap waffle place and then a cheap fries place for dinner — followed by Haagen Daas ice-cream and illy coffee. By the time I was done, I was in heaven. I reached back a bit earlier than usual, watched a crappy film, and went off to sleep.
The next day began slowly, with a wonderful breakfast with loads of fruits — they had prunes! prunes I tell ya! — and good cereal, croissants and coffee; there are some advantages to a 4-star Hotel right? My spirits already soaring with the hearty breakfast, I went into town and followed Steves’ tour of Bruges. As it turned out, I was there on a no-car Sunday — which meant that there were no vehicles on the streets that day till about 6 PM. This in itself was nice, but the cherry on top was the fact that ALL of the sights in Bruges — museums, churches etc. — had free entry! I did not realize this and was ready to shell out some money when I was informed that tout est gruit aujourdui. The day obviously got better after that. I managed to step into all the museums around town, save one (tired!) and visited all the highlights of Bruges, marveling at its scenic beauty. By around 3 PM, when I decided to go back and catch some shut eye, after buying the necessary chocolates for gifts back in the US, I had decided that Bruges was right up there as a place to visit in Belgian — although I was still pretty miffed with the high prices! It also helped that the heavy breakfast I had had ensured that I spent only 2 euros on a waffle for lunch and felt fine till evening!
A quick nap later, I went back into town, again in search of a nice veggie restaurant for dinner. I wanted to end my trip with a band and since I had had a light day in terms of food, I thought I’d go and have a nice little dinner. As it happened, the Gods of veggie food were not with me and the place that I searched for (different from the previous one) was closed as well! I then walked around Bruges, discovering more of it than I could have with any guidebook and realized that ny dinner would cost me upwards of 20 euros for just a main course and a drink. I reasoned with myself and finally succumbed to my cheaper student side. I had a neat little burger at a local fast food place for about 4 euros and fries for about 2 and then had enough left over for a nice homemade ice-cream from a local ice-cream shop (very crowded, very popular, very good). I was whiling away time, hoping for the sun to set, so that I would be able to capture the sights of Bruges in a light that I enjoy more, and stepped into a cafe in the town square for some coffee and a quick pee. The sun set, the sights were lit and I got some of the best views (and hence the best pix) that I had gotten through the trip. Bruges can only be appreciated accurately in the night time — as the pictures will show!
I refrained from describing the sites around town, since I wanted the pictures to convey their simple elegance and beauty, and hopefully they do. My trip was drawing to an end and I made out another long bath and enjoyed half of “Dinner with Shumcks”, before I decided to call it a day. I packed quickly and made provisions for a taxi and a super-early breakfast (5.30 AM, the hotel was excellent — I had a sumptuous meal), before melting into la-la-land.
The next morning went according to plan — I got up on time, had a quick shower and walked down to the reception where excellent coffee (with amazing crema) and fresh croissants, juice, yogurt and cereal were waiting for me. By the time I was done, the taxi arrived and Nepali named Shiva drove me to the station. I reached earlier than planned and could hence take an earlier train, giving me some more time between changes. I reached Ghent, changed platforms and took the train to Brussels international airport without any trouble. I had already checked in the previous day, so baggage drop-off was a breeze, as was customs and security. I boarded the plane, which took off on time and the rest as they say is history. One thing to note is the crummy service that Delta provides — I absolutely detest traveling in Delta — no entertainment, snooty stewards and crappy food. In any case, a perfect end to a perfect vacation!
Would I want to have done something different? I think I planned the schedule pretty well and covered all that I wanted without stressing myself out too much. I’d have liked to visit Leuven as well and probably would liked to have spent more time in Brussels seeing the sights — but given my constraints I think I did as near optimal as I could! So, here is to a wonderful 2 weeks in Belgium & Amsterdam…what a wonderful world!