Thursday, September 17, 2015

We're off to Bruges!


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 oday, we left Brussels for Bruges.

I had researched the train schedules before leaving on this trip so I knew there were frequent trains to and from Brussels and Bruges.  Ride time is about 55 minutes.  I also knew that getting Z up at an early hour would not be easy and besides, we weren't in a real rush so I decided to go easy on the poor guy.  I woke him up at 10a.  Thankfully, he's easy to wake up.  All I have to do to rustle him up is just say "Wake up", in a fairly loud voice.

We were out of the apartment well before 11a.  We had to get ourselves and our luggage to Bruxelles-Midi train station, where we had arrived into two days ago.  I knew we could get there via metro and our apartment is just a short walk away from the Louise station.

I followed Z out the door, leaving the key behind as agreed upon with the host.  I had made sure to leave the apartmenta spic span clean before leaving -   all the host would have to do is wash the sheets and give the bathroom a quick clean.

We dragged our wheeled luggage over the cobblestone streets.  Poor Z's suitcase.  The  rubber wheels were falling apart as he pulled the suitcase along.  I  think this is its last trip.

It was a work day and the streets were filled with cars, bicycles and people going here, there and everywhere.

We passed by this electric car rental stand.  The cars were all being charged up.   Pretty cool concept.

At the metro station, Z, the navigator checked the map to see which line we had to travel on.   I don't know why we've been so skittish about buying the tickets from the kiosk.



We had spare tickets from yesterday and while Z was able to go in without problem, my ticket was  not letting me through.  I tried inserting a couple of times and got rejected.  I tried another entry gate and go rejected as well.   So, I stood in line for the ticket counter.  When I got up front, I told the attendant about my story of woe and she was none too helpful telling me that there is no such thing as a bad ticket.  I was in no mood to argue so I just forked over the euros to buy a new ticket.

As I headed back towards the entry gate, I heard men shouting.  I turned around to see them pointing at my suitcase!  Can you believe I forgot to wheel my suitcase along with me?  I am getting forgetful.  I sheepishly walked back towards them and thanked them for pointing out my oversight.

Okay, in retrospect, after having taken a closer look at the ticket, I admit the ticket had somehow gotten folded, likely damaging the magnetic strip in the process. 

It was a really short ride from Louise to the stop for Bruxelles-Midi.  There, we had to find the train station and surprisingly, that took a bit of effort.  The signs were not clear but eventually, we made our way there.

There, we had to figure out where to go to get our tickets.  I had a rough idea but decided to stand in the information line to ask.


The answer was as obvious as I thought it was and it was onto standing in the next line. I managed to buy tickets for Z and I for the 11:55a train which would get us to Bruges shortly before noon. We would have to wait about 1/2 hour which was perfect. Before I left the ticket counter, the woman went over the ticket information and uttered the word, "fourteen" which I interpreted as the platform number. Walking out of the ticket office, I decided to check the departure board to confirm the platform number. Of course, neither the word, "Bruges" or "Brugge" which is the Flemish name for the town was displayed. I looked hard and long but no luck.   I was just about to stand back in the information line when Z came up and told me that it was Platform 14 that we had to be on.  Apparently, he bumped into a fellow passenger who was also heading to Bruges and was given the same information.  Z reminds me very much of Bro - he will not take any action until he is absolutely certain he has all the information he needs to proceed so I have learned to give him the time and space to figure things out for himself....even if I already know the answer.

Looking at the departure sign was really an exercise in futility because I think it was just displaying the departure and arrival destinations only and Bruges must be a point along the way on one of the train trips so it doesn't show up.

Off we went to the platform which was located a floor up.  Another thing I appreciate about the Belgians - they are very energy conscious.  Even in a place like the train station, where people traffic is heavy at times, the escalators all run on motion sensor detectors.  The first time I noticed this was when I was looking at an escalator and it didn't move until someone approached it.  I thought what a wonderful idea that is and if it can be done in a busy train station in Brussels, it can most certainly be done in many a building in the US.   I digress.  Back to our journey.

The sign above the platform was no more informative than the signs in the train terminal.  Thankfully, there was a train attendant answering questions from riders so I approached her as well.  She finally confirmed we were standing where we needed to be.  So we stayed put.

Just around the time I thought our train would be arriving, another one pulled on the platform next to ours.  The attendant shouted and waved for all Bruges passengers to board that train.  In the end, we departed from Platform 15 :-)

Unlike our train ride from Paris to Brussels, where we were had reserved seats in a preassigned car, on this ride, we just got into any 2nd class compartment and took whatever seats were available.  Shortly after we pulled out of the station, a conductor came by to punch our ticket.

At first, Z and I were separated but after the passenger, originally seated next to him, got off, I moved beside him.  The kid had his earphones plugged in and he was gazing at the world outside.  I don't think he even noticed me sitting down next to him.


We arrived into Bruges shortly before 1pm.  It was a short ride but Z managed to catnap.  I hoped it was enough to refresh him.  He's grumpy when he's not had enough sleep and today, no breakfast either so I'm sure that's compounding things.  In any event, we had to march on.


As we got off the train, rain was falling.  The weather has not been in our favor since we arrived into Belgium two days ago!

We made our way out of the train station and I immediately had to don my blueberry poncho as the rain was falling than just a few minutes earlier.

I had booked us into a hotel near the old city and I remember when I read the description of the hotel, that it was located just a short distance from the train station.  I was wondering how best to get us there.  Plan A.  Fire up Uber.  No pins.  Plan B. Take a taxi.  So we stood in the taxi line and it wasn't exactly moving fast.  So, Plan C.  Fire up Google Maps and see exactly what the walking distance is.  According to Google Maps, it was less than 15 minutes.  Z had no strong opinions on walk vs wait for taxi so I made the executive decision to walk.  With Google Maps leading the way, Z followed me along.

Sure enough, it took less than 15 minutes to get to our hotel - the Hotel Restaurant 't Putje.  Don't ask me to pronounce the name.  I don't know how to sound out a letter that's preceded by an apostrophe.  The reception desk is housed inside a very cute little building.   After checking us in, the receptionist took us to our room which is located in a separate building - across an alleyway from the backdoor of the building that has the reception desk and the hotel's three dining rooms.

The room is modern and comfortable and we have our own patio.  Of course, Z checked out the WiFi to make sure we had reception.

We took a few minutes to settle in before heading out.  First order of the day was to eat.  I was hungry and I'm positive Z was famished.  We're back in another popular tourist town so I braced myself for sticker shock.

From our room, it was literally a short walk down the alley to arrive at one of the main streets in the historic part of the city - Zuidzandstraat.  We're now in the heart of the Flanders region and therefore, we say goodbye to signs in French and hello to signs in Flemis.

It was still raining but just a light drizzle.  I had my rain jacket on but the blueberry poncho was inside my backpack in case the drizzle turned into a downpour.

Zuidzandstraat is filled mainly with shops catering mainly to tourists.  No surprise!  It was surprising to not see any restaurants.   I had already made a mental note to keep an eye out for potential places for us to eat lunch at.  It was that time of day and without breakfast in our bellies, we were both more than ready for a meal.

As we walked along Zuidzandstraat, I could see the church tower looming over the buildings.  Somewhere in that direction is Grote Markt (Market Square) which is where a good number of the historic landmarks are located.  I told Z we wanted to go there and to the canals.

Z had fired up the app on his phone and he was more than ready to navigate us wherever we needed to go.  I really appreciate that he's taking his navigation duties seriously as it's freed me up to just walk the streets and enjoy my surroundings.


Z led us down a street where I spotted a small eatery that seemed to be doing good business.  From what I could tell, it was a pasta place of sorts and the prices seemed very reasonable so I made the executive decision that this was the place we would have lunch.  The place is called Bocca and it advertises itself as a pasta bar.


Bocca's concept was very simple.  Pick your container size.  Pick your choice of pasta.  Pick your choice of meat/veg (extra cost depending on what you go with).  Pick your choice of sauce.   Pick your choice of cheese topping.  If you pick the smallest container and one choice of either meat or veg, your meal costs 4 euros.  Medium sized container is 5 euros and large is 6.  I figured Z would opt for the large but it was too large and so he went with medium; I had the small.   The pasta is cooked to order which means you have to wait for a few minutes but at least it's not pasta that has been sitting around forever.

We placed our order and took a couple of seats at the long communal table.  The voices around me were all speaking Flemish.....not that I was planning to eavesdrop if they were speaking French since the only French I know is menu French :-)

As we waited for our meal to be cooked up, a constant stream of people entered and left the restaurant.  This place is really popular!  Most certainly, the reasonable prices are one big reason why!


Cute bottles of carbonated sodas on a shelf.
I had fusili with a spicy tomato sauce topped with grated Gruyère.  It tasted good.  Z ordered his pasta with smoked salmon and surprisingly, he enjoyed it as well.  He wanted to spice his up with some chili sauce but all they had was Tobasco - I think he really wanted some sriracha - very Asian kid :-)

In any event, this was our cheapest meal so far and we were happy with it!  A last option to return to if we strike out on dinner places tonight.


With our bellies full, we headed out for an afternoon of sightseeing.  I wanted to come to Bruges on my previous visit to Belgium but we never made it so I'm excited that I am here!