Gentin’ out of Gent

All the way back in 2014 when we were in Bruges with my family, we decided to take a little day trip. We went back and forth on where we should go and finally decided on Gent, a town twenty minutes away. My father had read in a guide book that Gent was the undiscovered gem of Belgium, full of quirky bars and picturesque views.

When we first arrived in Gent, we were unsure whether my dad had read about the right place in this so called guide book. At first glance all we saw were office buildings and parking garages, nothing picturesque.

In the distance we noticed a bell tower- so we headed towards it figuring it must lead us to these “picturesque views” or at the very least a quirky bar (yes, it was 9am- stop judging).  We were correct, we stumbled upon streets lined with cafes and cute shops. As we kept walking we were lead into the more historic part of the city, and we began to see it’s charm (although it’s still funny to tease my dad about the time he was conned by a guide book).

Little did we know that Gent is actually the second biggest city in Belgium and has been around since the Middle Ages. The town lies along a river and is the third biggest port in Belgium.   There are several tourists spots to see: the Saint Bavo Cathedral, the belfry (like the one in Bruges you can pay to go to the top), and the Gravensteen castle.

A lot of the mediaeval architecture has remained in tact and well preserved. Although it has the similar architecture as Bruges, it has more of a modern, lived-in feel and less of that of a storybook. Apparently the aforementioned guide book referred to it as “gritty.” I could see that. It’s more of a city and less of a tourist destination. Most signs and menus are in Dutch but luckily we were able to order our gingerbread lattes without a problem. P.S. Gent must be important because they have their own Starbucks mug- which we bought.

Here are some snapshots of our time in the booming metropolis that is Gent. Enjoy 🙂

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my adorable parents

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Christmas lights in the entry of the castle

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castle christmas tree

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Don’t the four always go together?

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Hanging meat & a restaurant enclosed in glass

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In Gent they wear party hats and make congo lines to throw away trash

Linking up with Compass Rose for Travel Tuesday

Bruges Basics

If you are like me you probably have little background knowledge of Bruges, I honestly knew nothing about this place until we began planning our trip. If you are interested in visiting Bruges or just learning more about this mysterious little town I have put together a short informational guide based on our trip last month.

Hope you enjoy 🙂

Where is Bruges?

Bruges (or Brugge in Dutch) is the capital of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish region of Belgium. Lost you yet? Here’s a map…

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A canal based city, Bruges is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the North.” It is about an hour drive from the more popular city of Brussels and only thirty minutes from the Netherlands. You can get to Bruges by train, car or flying into Brussels. Once you are in the historic centre of Bruges you can easily get around on foot or bike.

Where We Stayed

If you are planning on staying in Bruges (it can also be done as a day trip) make sure your accommodation is within the city walls, in the historic city centre. That is where all of the tourist attractions, shops, markets etc. are and once you are in there you can walk everywhere you need to be.

As I mentioned before my parents actually booked this trip, so all accomodation credit goes to Randy Rhoads (that’s my dad). We rented an apartment called De Drie Koningen, which I just discovered is actually ranked #1 on Trip Advisor for speciality accommodations.

My family loves renting apartment instead of staying in hotels, usually the price is comparable if not cheaper, it’s much more comfortable (for five people that’s pretty important) and you have the luxury of preparing your own meals if you want.

This particular apartment was awesome. It was a three bedroom, two bath with two floors. When you check in the owner, Niko, gives you an iPad that has all of the necessary information for your stay on it, including all of his recommended restaurants saved on google maps.

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I think my favorite part was the Christmas tree since we don’t have one in our apartment.

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I think my dad and Travis’ favorite part was the Honesty Bar where you could choose a beverage (and coordinating glass, this is important) and mark on your check out sheet. When you check out you just hand them your sheet (the owner called it the Sheet of Shame) and pay for what you drank. In this same room they also had a huge selection of DVDs (in English too!) that you could borrow. This was great for cozy nights on the couch after adventuring out in the cold.

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What To Do

This is just what we did during our stay. We spent two full days in Bruges.

Christmas Market 

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As I said before, we were there during the week and so the market was a little less hopping on a Tuesday night than it was later in the week. It was still fun to walk around, look at the shops, Christmas lights and enjoy a warm (adult) beverage.

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The Belfry

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The Belfry is a medieval bell tower that was built in 1240. You can pay to climb to the top (336 steps) and get a 360 degree view of the town. The steps are really, really narrow and steep so they only allow 70 people in there at a time. The trek is broken up with different levels where you can see how the bells are wrung and historical

 Also, it closes at 5 so you have to go during the day.

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Church of Our Lady

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Not only is the historic church beautiful but it also houses Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child- the only one of his works that left Italy during his lifetime. The church itself has no entrance fee but to see the sculpture you have to pay a whopping 2 Euros. Other sites I have read have said there were long lines to get in but when we went there wasn’t a line at all (another benefit of traveling during the week I suppose).

Basilica of the Holy Blood

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Basilica of the Holy Blood contains what is believed to be a relic of Jesus’ blood. The church is located off of the corner of the main square, entrance is free but a small fee is required to go into the (very small) museum and to see the vile. Definitely check the times they are open before going because they are open very strange hours.

Museums

Brugge is full of museums. My dad and Travis visited the Beer Museum while my sister, mom and I hit up the Christmas shops. They were impressed and we ended up being the ones waiting on them to finish after almost two hours. Your ticket into the museum includes two beers and they give you an iPad to guide you through (Bruges loves iPads). They were enthralling us with their beer trivia the rest of the trip.

My family had visited the Historium (which is right off of the main square) on their last visit and were none too impressed. If I were to go back again I would be paying a visit to the Chocolate or French Fry (Friets) Museums.

Where To Eat 

La Trattoria

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The first evening we got into Bruges we were tired and VERY hungry after our drive. It was only 5pm but we went and when we went out searching for a place for dinner we realized many places didn’t open until 5:30. We also realized due to the small seating capacity in most restaurants, reservations are a must. As we were looking (and shivering) at the menu outside La Trattoria, the manager (or possibly owner) came out and told us we could come in and sit and warm up until they opened. Clearly that sold us on where we were eating. The hospitality did not stop there though, the staff was very friendly and gave us suggestions on everything from the food and drinks to where to go in Bruges. Once the food came out, it was delicious. We also got various pasta dishes that were on special and my sister got a pizza, all of which we would order again. We even noticed they had a takeaway menu and discussed getting food from their later in the week, it was that good.

The Olive Tree

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The Olive Tree was an easy choice considering it is voted #3 on Trip Advisor for Bruges restaurants, and my mom had been told by several friends that we needed to eat there as well. It’s Mediterranean cuisine with a twist. Everything on the menu is made from fresh ingridients and they provide a mix of fish, meat, and vegetarian options. I ordered a greek stuffed chicken breast that I have been trying to recreate ever since. My family also ordered the shrimp and pork dishes that were all amazing. We weren’t sure what the hype was about this place at first but we definitely get it now. It’s also conveniently located right off the square.

Restaurant Bistro De Shilder

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We stumbled upon this spot during one of our walks around town. It was cold and we were hungry and I saw a fire through the window. Sold. It was right off one of the smaller squares and was perfectly quaint. Also their spaghetti bolognese (that I ate as a snack, stop judging) was delicious and under ten euros for a large portion. It’s the perfect place to escape the cold and have a Belgium beer or two, plus they have a “snack menu” and I am all about that.

Gingerbread Tea Room

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When I googled “Best Belgium waffles in Bruges” this place kept popping up so of course we had to try it out. My mom and I both got the Belgium waffle with fruit (seen below) and it was so delicious. I am not a big sweets for breakfast person but I knew that I had to have at least one Belgium waffle while I was in Belgium. This was the perfect choice- not too rich or sweet since they don’t put syrup on their waffles. They also have an extensive coffee and tea menu. Below is my mom’s hot chocolate and not pictured is my delicious macaroon latte (I didn’t even know they did that!).

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I read online that you should make a reservation but it was too late at that point. We were ok finding a table but during a busier time you would probably want to call ahead. Also, like a lot of places in Bruges it is cash only so bring your Euros!

Tea-room De Proverie

A lot of places claim to have “the best hot chocolate in Bruges” but this place takes the cake. They get their chocolate from the chocolaterie across the street and then you mix it with the hot milk your self. It also comes with a few pieces of scrumptious chocolates.

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Travis ordered an Irish coffee which also came with chocolates and cream.

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It is the cutest little tea room with fire places to keep you warm and homey decor. A great place to duck out from the cold and warm up. They take credit cards and we went twice without a reservation and didn’t have a problem getting a table.

Well I think I covered everything, let me know if you have been to Bruges and I need to add anything else in.

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Sights of Bruges

Today I am talking about our trip to Bruges, Brugge or whatever you want to call it (not really, I am sure they would prefer you stick to one of those two) a couple weeks ago.

After a couple of days in London with my parents and sister, all five of us piled in the car and headed to Belgium. Before this trip I did not know anything about Bruges, or Belgium in general. All I knew was that my parents said that it was a cute little town with christmas markets and an ice skating rink, and it was only 3.5 hours away from London. Sold. Spending the holiday season in 90 plus temperatures had me craving a winter chill to make me feel like it was actually Christmas.

Note: Bruges is such a beautiful city and everywhere you turn there is something photograph worthy. I wanted to share those sights in this post and share other tourist information (what to do, eat etc.) in a separate one.

So here you go, the sights and sounds of Bruges…

Ok, there aren’t any sounds but you can use your imagination.

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Burg Square

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Bruges has been around since the 9th century and the historic city centre (which is located within the city walls) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fun fact: Bruges received their official city charter on July 27, 1128 which is exactly 885 years before Travis and I got married. It’s like we were meant to visit.

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The most photographed spot in Bruges (according to the internet, so it must be true)

Most of the city’s medieval architecture is still in tact and walking around you literally feel like you are stepping back in time.

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Delicious chocolate shops on every corner.

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Adorable cafes on every corner, adorable husbands as well.

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The canal runs through the town and boat tours are available but the frigid weather detoured us from going.

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The Church of Our Lady in the background.

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Minnewater Park

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Béguinage, a monastery.

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“Stop staring at me Swan!” Name the movie.

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I got sick of smiling in front of things.

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This gentleman really wanted in the photograph.

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Cobblestone streets and cozy shops.

We were told Bruges has two seasons- busy and really busy. We were there during the week and the streets were pretty actually pretty quiet. It was nice to not have to wait in lines or for a table at dinner. By Thursday, everything was picking up for the weekend and there were noticeably more tourists.

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The center of town was the Market Square or “Markt.” This is where the ice skating rink and Christmas Market was set up. Everything else was located on streets that branched off. We were warned that many of the shops and restaurants off the “Markt” were overpriced tourist traps.

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Ice Skating Rink

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I hope you enjoyed the sights of Bruges 🙂 I will be posting a much more informative guide to Bruges next week.

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Friday Favourites: European Edition

Happy Friday 🙂

Our whirlwind weeklong trip is coming to a close, we got back to London this afternoon and we head back to Oz tomorrow evening. It’s been a chilly but fun week of family time, exploring new places and relaxing.

When we get home I will be posting more about where we went and what we did with photographic evidence from the “big camera” but until then, here are my favorites via lovely iPhone photography.

Christmas in London

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There’s something magical about Christmas time in London. The streets are busy, everyone has shopping bags and there are Christmas decorations and lights everywhere. I felt super touristy taking this picture but whatever- my husband is wearing a backpack so I guess we’re not really fooling anyone.

Gordon’s Wine Bar

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This is the fourth time in the past year we have been to Gordon’s in hopes of sitting in the cave-like cellar. The first time it was closed, the second and third time it was so packed we had to perch on a wine barrel outside with our wine glasses. But we are nothing if not determined and apparently 2pm on a sunny Sunday afternoon is not the most popular time to sit inside a dark cave and drink wine. We got prime real estate tucked right in the back corner. We split a bottle of wine, enjoyed a cheese plate and a Sunday roast and pretty much forgot what sunlight and the outside world looked like for a while. Gordon’s is the oldest wine bar in London and possibly all of Europe- built in the 1800’s. Most of it is still in its original condition including the dining area that is lit only by candle light. If you are in London I would add this to your list- good food, cheap wine and a step back in time.

Hunter Wellies

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I got an early Christmas present from my parents- the Hunter rain boots (or Wellies) I’ve been eyeing. I was so excited when I saw rain in the forecast for Brugge so I could break them in! Now I’m just crossing my fingers for more rain in Brisbane when we get back! Someone else liked them too…

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He just had a little trouble removing them.

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Brugge

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We spent the past several days in the quaint little town of Brugge (or Bruges), Belgium. I’m not exaggerating when I say it looks like a fairytale. The city center is literally within walls, the streets are cobblestone, the houses look fake and there are as many horse drawn carriages as there are cars on the road. I can’t wait to share more on our time there.

Tomorrow we head back home- only 8 hours to Dubai and 15 hours to Australia.

Until next time, check out the other Friday Favorites on the link up…

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