29 April 2012

Easter in Brugge. . .

For Easter 2012, we headed to Brugge, Belgium and spent the holiday weekend with my friend Kara, her husband Ryan, and their boys, Cole and Gabe.  They are currently living in Ramstein-Massenbach, Germany; Ryan is in the US Air Force and is stationed there for about the same amount of time that we are living here.

Spending Easter in Belgium. . .pretty sure that I will never say that again!  It is a really interesting and charming city. . .and of course I have a ridiculous number of pictures in this post!!

To get to Brugge, we drove down to Folkstone, which is about three hours away in the southeast corner of England.  From there we took the Eurotunnel across to Calais, France.  Then it was about 1 1/2 hours to drive up to Belgium--on the right side of the road!

Queuing for the train.

 Backseat full of monkeys!

So the EuroTunnel is one of the trains that goes under the English Channel.  We took the EuroStar to Disneyland Paris which was a traditional passenger train.  This time the train had a little twist--Keith drove the car onto the train and we stayed in it during the trip!  Very new and frankly, very cool, for us!

 Stopped in Calais at a real, honest-to-goodness shopping mall. . .everything was in French, but it was huge. . . and felt just like one in the States!!  There aren't too many of those around in our part of England!

 Good old American classics in France!!

Yep. . that's a speed limit sign. . it took us a second to remember that's not miles per hour!
On to Bruges. . .
 Had to snap a photo of a bookstore!

The whole of Brugge's city centre is cobblestone streets that have been there hundreds of years, canals, & impressive architecture--just small and charming and really enjoyable!  I took so many (too many?) pictures of buildings, etc, but I am not sure that the pictures will do the atmosphere justice!  You can simply feel the age of everything!  The city planners are doing an excellent job of incorporating the new businesses & restaurants into the history that exists there.

The Burg (De Burg)-and more specifically, the Markt Square-- is the center of town and was pretty much our starting point to find other things--every corner has a little street that leads to another part of the city and then right back to the Square.  Consequently, I have many (MANY) pictures of these buildings, and we didn't even go in them! :)

Bikes are everywhere!  I would have thought the medieval cobblestone streets & sidewalks might be a deterrent, but the city is overflowing with cyclists!

Above is the belfry tower, The Belfort (Beffroi), and it's the Eiffel Tower of Brugge. Added to main square in 1240, it is 272 feet high and to climb to the top it's 366 steps.  (If you have seen the movie In Bruges, this tower is pretty pivotal in the plot)  We decided not to attempt this with all the kids in tow; maybe next time!

Next up is the not so historical, but very kid (and adult) friendly BUMPER CARS!  The four bigger kids loved them and we were coerced to let them ride each day! :)  There was a little carnival set up with rides for children in the Burg--probably a good thing for us as old brick buildings hold zero charm for children!!

On a side note, my Maggie is a vicious little squirt when it comes to bumper cars. . and then she just giggles and drives away!

This wonderful little chocolate shop, Dumon, was our first chance to snag some Belgian chocolate, but certainly not our last.  There were chocolate shops EVERYWHERE!  And the smelled so very delicious. . .

We came across a public library, or Bibliotheek.  Inside it was very modern with loads and loads of DVDs and video games. . .and some books, too in the back part.  Libraries are changing everywhere!

Very disturbing little mannequins in a shop window!
Another shot of the Belfort.

The Provincial Government Palace in the Markt Square.

Kara enjoying "the bump-bumps" (and taking after Maggie a little bit!)

One of the things that is most recommended to do in Bruges is to take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the cobblestone streets.  The driver doubles as your personal tour guide--ours was a young girl that was born and raised in Bruges.  Her Flemish accented English was awesome to listen to. . she rolled all the r's. . her voice was really fascinating and lyrical.  I am really glad we got a chance to do this--I would highly recommend it if you are ever in Bruges!

Ryan, Kara, Cole, & Gabe were right behind us.  The horses took a five minute break, so we took a five minute stroll.

All the kiddos by the canal.

On to a few random building shots. . . .

Stations of the Cross outside one of the Catholic Churches--most churches in Brugge are Catholic.

American food. . even in a medieval town!
Enjoying our Belgian waffles. . .I am sitting here drooling right now thinking about how good they were!

And this made me hungry for a gondola (or torpedo, whichever) from Central Illinois.

Such good Daddies. . .Kara and I were hitting an antiques place.

The other way it is recommended to see Bruges is by boat. . .the city is sometimes called "The Venice of the North" because of its canals.  Here we are waiting for our boat. . .

Going under the "lowest bridge in Brugges"

Above is the Notre-Dame belfry of the Church of Our Lady built in the 13th & 14th centuries.  At 400 feet high, it is probably one of the highest brick buildings in Europe.

This had to be the only wood building we saw in all of Brugge--I think it is a hotel now.
Kara and I were getting our picture taken when this parade almost ran over Charlotte and Gabe in their pushchairs!  Don't know what it was for. . .

Local law enforcement.

We had to go to The Beer Temple--de Bier Tempel. . . it was just full of Belgian beer and all of the specific glasses that go with each one.  And I mean each one!  There is a very particular etiquette regarding beer in Belgium. . .you don't serve a beer in a glass that is engineered for another beer!  The picture below is from their website--I was too excited looking around the store to remember to take pictures!


All dressed up for Easter Mass!

Ironically, our hotel's continental breakfast didn't include Belgian waffles.  So Sunday morning we were off to find some. . .it was nice that it was so quiet, but as we were walking through the deserted streets, we began to worry that nothing would be open.  Luckily, the cafes on the Markt Square were open.  We had lovely (but expensive ) Belgian waffles and freshly squeezed orange juice for our Easter breakfast.

Some pictures from our stroll to church.

We attended Mass at The Church of Our Lady (its belfry was the tall one a few pictures back).  Most of the churches in Brugge are Catholic, but this one was our choice because it houses Michelangelo's Madonna and Child.  It is one of the few Michelangelo pieces to leave Italy and was donated to the Church by one of its parish members.  The Mass was in Flemish (a greeting and a couple of prayers were also said in English), but one of the nice things about a Catholic Mass is that its rhythms are pretty much the same anywhere you go so we weren't too lost!

Michelangelo's Madonna and Child (1504-5)
So beautiful!

The Chancellery. . which has a facade that dates back to the first half of the 16th century.  The street we are walking on is called the "Blinde Ezelstraat" which means the "Street of the Blind Ass". . . there's got to be a story behind that one!

We weren't able to go in because it wasn't open yet for the day, but above is the Basilica of the Holy Blood.  It houses an urn which holds drops of Jesus Christ's blood that were brought back from the Crusades.  The church was built especially to house the Holy Blood.

The best Belgian waffles we had were from this stall. . the "Gexondheidsapotheek" :)

At least Charlotte's leg got in the picture (she was asleep)!!