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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Visiting Bruges, Belgium

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Visiting Bruges, Belgium

I thought I would share a few tips about visiting Bruges, Belgium, one of the top tourist highlights in Belgium.  Even people outside of Belgium have heard of this beautiful almost untouched Flemish city.  Okay, so wait, in Dutch/Flemish your going to call it Brugge.  Yeah, simple right...the French say it one way, the Flemish another...easy when it sounds and looks almost the same.  Try that with the city we live in, known as Mons in French and Bergen for the Flemish.  It always cracks me up that as soon as you cross the border from Wallonia (French) to Flanders (Flemish), even the billboard governmental highway signs...exact same drunk driving photo or "be careful driving" graphic, immediately have a different language as soon as you cross over.  But I am getting WAY off topic today.  I wanted to share a few easy tips in getting to and getting around this top favorite of mine!

If you're coming from the direction of the SHAPE NATO base near Mons, it'll only take you about 1-1/2 hours, pretty much all highway driving....yes, bumpy....that's Belgium, so watch the potholes and construction.  At this time in April 2011, they were still building that monumental traffic circle right before you hit the city, which caused traffic to back up onto the highway to a standstill.  Please try to arrive at least before 10 on the weekdays and by 9 on the weekends or you will have missed the chance for smooth sailing.  I always take the first turn off that traffic circle into the city....easier to get to the trainstation, which is where we are going.  Watch the video below for tips on where to park for dirt cheap AND how to get free roundtrip bus tickets for everyone in your car.  Now of course, I can't stop you from buying all the neat chocolates, beer and lace....but I can at least save you some in the transportation department.

I'm going to caution you to not go on high peak travel times...Spring and Fall are best, but if you MUST go in the summer, go ahead and go on the weekdays.  The city is just PACKED with tons of tourists on the weekends, and they come from all over, not just Belgium and the surrounding area.  While I was there on a weekend before Easter, I saw tons of river cruise tourist folks walking around....interesting.

I can recommend:

  • Just walking around the city center.  There are some cute shops, albeit touristy, but nice things to windowshop.  There are also so many historic buildings, and who ever saw so many buildings dressed in gold except maybe in Istanbul?
  • Checking out all the canals.  They make their way in rings around the city....reminds me a lot of Strasbourg, not so much like Venice....very nice.
  • Chocostory.  This was a great kid thing.  The story itself wasn't that exciting, except I did enjoy the 18th century hot chocolate pots and appreciated that women were hired just to make hot chocolate for the was a noble drink and not for the masses til much later.  The best part is of course sampling the stuff after watching the test kitchen chocolatier explaining what he was doing step-by-step when he made some beautiful and tasty chocolates with hazelnut center.....perfectly understandable in French, English and Dutch.  The best part is that the place smelled of chocolate...not only from the kitchen but also from the larger-than-life chocolate statues adorning the halls....mmmmmm.  Kids gave it a thumbs up.
  • Going up in the belfry.  But only if you are not cheap like me.  I had to ask someone else about the's 200+ steps, which would've been okay, but I wasn't paying 5 euro for that, but I encourage you to.  I bet there is  a nice view.
  • Lace shops.  Just be careful.  85% of the stuff is Made in China, and the good shopkeepers will tell you which ones...but by the time you hit your second lace shop, you'll know yourself by looking at the price.  If you're not paying 30 euro for a hankie, then it's not genuine Belgian lace.  I'm not knocking the unGodly amount of hours goes into each piece, so if you were to pay that lacemaker per hour, your are getting her (or him) dirt cheap at that 30 euros.
  • Sitting in a Cafe in the mainsquare.  My favorite part....and everyone seems to love those chocolate cubes you get on a stick and then stick it in your hot milk to make chocolate....another mmmmm.  Try to go at an off hour...not at lunch time, and I like the snack place down the side from the old post office...on the but good fries and excellent view.
  • the City Tour folks.  It's a little bit like a hop on hop off bus but not quite.  It is a large colorful van that makes a circuit in 50 minutes and stops at all the major points...great if you don't or can't walk the distance.  It's priced right also at 14,50 euro for adults and 8,50 euro for kids.
  • Favored goodie store.  My husband, the beer expert, almost died when he walked into 2be shop with their 780 types of Belgian beer mind you in their cellar, along with every chocolate, goodie and everything else you can stick in your mouth!
Now why did I not recommend one of the many boatrides?  Cause all it takes is one look at those low-in-the-water overloaded boats where they pack you in like sardines....nope, not for's also cooler and I have a better view sitting on the stone railings.  There is also a french fry museum and a diamond museum that has one demonstration a day around noon.  If your time is limited skip all that.  Diamond museums and demonstrations are a better deal in Amsterdam and Atnwerp...the grandmother and grandfather of them all.

You'll find many guidebooks out there about Bruges.  But Bruges will be bundled together most likely with Brussels and possibly Antwerp.  That's's hard to fill an entire guidebook with it.  We mostly get done what we want to get done in a half day and then leisurely drive back to Mons with the car packed of chocolates and beer.  If you want to stay, please find something outside the city limits.  Bruges is a prized Flemish possession and the prices to stay overnight inside the city reflect that.  There are PLENTY of nice B&Bs outside the fact, you are only 20 km or so from the coast at this point, so if you are planning to stay overnight, how about finding something in between Bruges and the coast?  Again, use my favorite lodging planners hostelworld and booking.

Oh, last tip.  My husband always likes to buy beers from pretty much everywhere we go in Europe.  You'll see beer in half the tourist stores in the city and then some.  Take your time on the way home and plug the nearest grocery store into your GPS, as you get away from the city center.  That's where you should buy your beer (and even chocolates, as long as they are not gourmet) from the local grocery store where the locals buy their stuff.  Oh, and the beer labes?  He is working on a huge collection of beer labels, plus he just likes to drink beer.  At a later point, or maybe when we start the project, I'll have to say what we are going to do with those'll be a fun reminder of our latest European tour I'm sure.

If you have any tips to share on this wonderful city, please be my guest below!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite city in Europe and the best kept secret I think! I love going to the French fry museum. Did you know Belgians invented the French fries? It was the Americans who called it that when Belgians gave them French fries because they were speaking French. Or that is how the story is told. I love canal boat rides too!

May 15, 2011 at 5:03 PM  

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