Tuesday in Antwerp is busy. In fact, every day in Antwerp is busy. The Meir, the main shopping street that runs through the city, is packed with shoppers, tourists, walkers, locals, bikers, sightseers, coffee-and-waffle consumers, and more, at all hours of the day. Does anyone ever work around here? Like do these people have jobs? Or do they just chill? I don’t know. My mom didn’t know. Nobody knew why all these people were lounging about on a normal weekday morning instead of going to work and, you know, working. We had our own schedule to adhere to however, and did not have long to stop and ponder the daily activities of Belgians, young and old.
In fact, we were headed out of Antwerp for the day, to the nearby city of Bruges (sounds like rouge). Roughly a 90 minute train ride, Bruges is very accessible from Antwerp and makes for a great day trip excursion.
We had a few things on our list that we knew we wanted to do and see in Bruges. After arriving, our first stop was the Belfry tower. Mom had visited Bruges before with her students but had not had the chance to climb the tower, and we knew we wanted to be able to see the city from the top. The tower is open to the public from 9:30am-6:00pm and the cost to enter is 8euros with a student ID or for groups of 15 people or more, and 10euros for adults. The tower is over 83 meters tall, with a mere 366 steps up a narrow staircase to the top. The journey up includes a treasury exhibit, the clockwork mechanism, and 47 bells giving off an impressive concert at the new hour. And of course, the amazing views of the city in all directions are the biggest attraction of all.
Following our descent from the tower, we had a truly Belgian lunch with beef stew, frites, and Westmalle Trappist. Such a heavy lunch necessitated more walking so we hit the streets in search of the “most photographed spot in Bruges.” However, before finding it, just a couple hundred feet down the street from our lunch stop, we found a large outdoor concrete marketplace. As it was a cold weekday in February, Valentine’s Day to be exact, the market was virtually empty, except for one lone vendor selling canvas paintings and prints. We ventured closer and were met with a beautiful display of ornate and vibrantly colored scenes of Bruges. The wife of the artist (Artis Karnisauskis- Facebook: Artis Brugge Paintings) was the one manning the booth and after chatting for a bit, we selected a beautiful painting of a square in Bruges with blues, purples, greens, and reds. Having had the canvas taken apart and carefully rolled so we would be able to transport it home, I walked away with my first original, one-of-a-kind painting of a beautiful town in a beautiful country.
We did find the most photographed spot in Bruges shortly after, and it was quite lovely. However, after having climbed the Belfry and seen the city from above, a spot that is a bit harder to access and therefore not as frequented by those who just want to snap a quick photo, we did not feel the need to spend an exorbitant amount of time there.
One of the other things on our list was to find the Trappist Westvletern 12 beer, a Belgian Quad that can be a bit elusive due to the fact that is is packaged in label-less bottles. It is also very pricey, at 12.50euro per bottle (at least at the shop we found it at) and therefore we did not purchase a 6-pack. I honestly do not know what makes this beer so special, but something about it is intriguing, and after having savored my bottle, I did enjoy the full flavor it featured, but I also would not pay 12.50euro for one again, as to my amateur tastes, it was no better than one of the 3euro beers I’d had earlier in the week.
Windmills have been in Bruges since the end of the 13th century, and today, four still dot the outer edge of the city on Kruisvest. The Sint-Janshuismolen Mill, from 1770, is the only mill you can visit and is still in its original location, where it still grinds grain. The mills are along a greenway, offering a lovely park environment on the edge of the city along the canal.
After admiring the windmills for quite some time, we realized we needed to head back to the train station in order to catch a reasonably timed train back to Antwerp. We trekked straight back through the city, admiring old streets and beautiful canal scenes.
We reached the station only minutes after a train had left. While this was inconveient, as I said earlier, Bruges and Antwerp are very accessible to one another and we new it was only a matter of time before another train would arrive. We waited about 45 minutes and soon enough were on our way back to Antwerp, happily entertaining ourselves on the train with the Dot Game.
Our day trip to Bruges was busy and involved a lot of walking. 23,243 steps to be exact, or 11.44 miles. Yes I have a fitbit and yes I wrote down the numbers for future reference. We were tired to say the least. We had a simple dinner of fruit and cheese and relaxed the rest of the evening.
All in all, Bruges is a lovely city and the perfect place to spend a day exploring the various aspects of Belgian culture. History, art, food, shopping, and architecture make it a very alluring small city.