The only real plans I had when I arrived in Bruges, Belgium, were all food related. As a self proclaimed chocoholic, I did have a feeling that I would most likely enjoy my time in the chocolate capital of the world. What I didn’t expect, was just how much I would fall in love with the quaint storybook town.
My immediate reaction upon pulling into Bruges was, well – that I was starving. But even in my “hangry” state, the adorable little streets immediately captured my heart. It was quite different from anything I had seen on my trip so far – the paved roads and antique shop fronts giving it an old-fashioned feel. Despite the fairy-tale I had just walked into, I was unable to continue to ignore the grumbles of my stomach, so we were off to try some Belgium fries (frites).
I’d only discovered a few days prior, that french fries actually originated in Belgium. So I gladly added them to my list of “must try” foods. A rosy-cheeked woman rushed from one end of the tiny takeaway shop to the other. Throwing food in the deep fryer, serving customers and doing whatever else needed to be done. She handed me a cone full of perfectly cooked frites and smothered them in different sauces. I’d never really thought about the combination of tomato sauce (or ketchup) and mayonnaise before but now all I wondered was, where has it been all my life? My hands were completely covered in sauce but those frites, were pretty damn good.
After recovering from my food coma, we decided to explore the town. Just a few streets away from our hostel, we could see the top of the Belfry of Bruges, poking up behind Market Square. That was when it hit me. I knew that smell… chocolate! Waffles to the left of me, chocolate to my right. Apparently my appetite was back and it was in full force.
After a very slow stroll down my new favourite street, we finally made it to the bell tower, which sat at the top of the busy square. The building had a medieval feel to it and reminded me of something out of a storybook, as did the sound of horse hoofs trotting through the square. Although, I was quickly snapped back into the 21st century, when I noticed a small reflective structure – the perfect excuse for everyone to selfie or ten. Naturally, I joined in.
After exploring the town for a little longer and taking full advantage of all the free samples, we decided to visit the Chocolate Museum because learning about chocolate isn’t as bad as eating it. Then of course, we were welcomed with a lovely piece of Belgian chocolate upon entry. All jokes aside, the museum was quite interesting and even ended with a chocolate making demonstration. Which may have resulted in more free samples… I promise, we were trying to escape it!
On our second day in Bruges, we were determined to do something that wasn’t somehow chocolate related, so we booked a bike tour of the town. We arrived at the meeting spot and waited… Then waited some more. Nothing. No bikes, no tour guide or even anyone else, looking as confused as we were. We made our way back to the hostel, upset and annoyed that we had wasted 25 Euro on nothing, instead of on something useful, like chocolate.
Instead of sulking, we rented some bikes from the hostel and set off on our own adventure. The roads were definitely not the smoothest of surfaces but the scenery made up for that. We laughed at our terrible biking skills, as we road alongside the water, pointing out the windmills along the way. There was one after another, with different colours and patterns, moving slowly in the breeze.
At the end of the track, we found a sign that pointed to Damme. We had heard of a ‘magical tree tunnel’ that was somewhere in the area, so we thought we’d try our luck at finding it. It was so refreshing to go off the beaten track and get amongst nature. The grass was a perfect shade of green, the air was crisp and my legs were pedaling so fast, it felt like they’d fall off at any moment.
All of a sudden, the road got a little narrower and the trees, a whole lot taller. We’d found it and it was nothing short of magic. A row of trees were perfectly aligned and stretched high into the cloudy sky. I stood in awe of our discovery. It was so close to the town, yet it felt as though we’d unlocked a secret. If there was going to be a magical forest in the fairy-tale town of Bruges, this couldn’t have been more perfect.
I’m not going to pretend that Bruges is party central, with 101 things to do but it is somewhere that I felt unbelievably safe. The streets are well kept, the people are friendly and the food is amazing. Sometimes it’s better when you don’t have everything right there in front of you. It forces you to step outside your comfort zone and explore things on your own. If you’re lucky, you might even find something pretty incredible along the way.
Laura Jayne x