Bruised in Bruges

Note this trip is posted from end to beginning.

We planned to take the train from Ghent to Bruges for a day trip, getting into Bruges by 11:30 am. Ghent was cold and foggy in the morning, so the thought of a warm train was pleasant. The ride is short, under an hour.

Logic would have the tourism office at the train station, but instead it was almost in the center of the city. Assured it was only a 5 minute walk, it took closer to twenty as there were few signs pointing which way to go.

When we finally discovered the office, Ron asked enough questions to fill 4 full days of touring, though we were only spending the day here. We had dinner reservations at Pampas Rodizio in Ghent at 8pm.

Walking into the center of the city exuded a historic feel as well as an architect’s fantasy land. Each building has incredible structures that stimulate the senses. Some have 1768 or other earlier dates proudly stamped into the front wall to all to see. Once at the center square, it was apparent they are getting ready for Christmas. Temporary wooden booths were lined up around the square, but still boarded closed. However, in the center of these future sales outlets were children’s amusements: tiny bumper cars, fishing for plastic fish, and the ubiquitous arcade with games of chance giving optimistic souls the chance to win a chintzy prize costing a fraction of what they spent to win it. On the far side of the square partially obstructing the view of the fine building the Historium lives in is an ice rink surrounded by fake trees that are all decked out with fake snow. This has not opened yet either.

We had heard the Historium was worthy of a visit. From the information provided we learned this. “Historium is an experience attraction. You will step through lifelike sets in which film, music and special effects combine to create a magical experience. In this way you will live out an engrossing love story played out in the golden age of Bruges. It is more than seeing and hearing. You can smell and feel how life was in those times. Thanks to the audio guide, you will experience everything in your own language.

The story that you experience in Historium takes you back to the 15th century, or 1435 to be precise. You will witness the day when Jacob met the love of his life…The young Jacob works for Jan Van Eyck, the famous painter, and in the early morning has to pick up model Anna and parakeet Frederico from the Bruges quays. But not everything goes as planned…”

Though the info we read ahead of time, said it was a 30 minute experience, when we arrived, they said it would take an hour. We bought a combination ticket for this and the Groeninge Museum for €15 each.

One can start the tour at 5 minute intervals, so we decided to get something to drink before starting out and chose one café amongst the dozen surrounding the center square. Too cold for outdoors even with heatilators, we asked for an indoor table. Our mistake, it made it more difficult to run out once we glanced at the menu. A cappuccino and a pot of tea were the same price – €6 each. We both had pots of tea since they were larger than any coffee offering, but I fumed at the thought of a €6 teabag. We were bruised in the wallet for certain.

The tea aside, the Historium was an excellent source of entertainment and education. It is incredible what they can do with computer technology today. We actually felt like we were part of history with real actors, though they were all film or life-sized puppets. It was time and money well-spent, but we still had the Groeningemuseum yet.

As we walked to the museum, there were dozens of people flocking the canal. The children were the clue; they were waving flags with Kris Kringle on them. When I asked someone to be sure, she confirmed my thoughts adding he would arrive by boat down the canal.

I never knew much about Flemish art and honestly, I don’t remember much of what I read, but the Groeninge Museum is a treasure trove not to be missed. We spent more than 2 ½ hours there. Though I was familiar with Jan Van Eyck, this was a great experience to learn more.

Bruges like Ghent has strange hours for store openings. When we arrived, 90% of the stores were still closed by noon. By 4pm, 90% of them were open for business. Belgium is known for its chocolate and by golly; the chocolate shops were in abundance. Some blocks had 4 shops side by side, competing for business. We bought a funnel cone of French fries, what everyone in Belgium and The Netherlands eats for street food.

By 5pm, we were heading back to the train station. We had dinner reservations in Ghent at Pampas Rodizio. Judging from the crowds each day we walked by, when we were refused a table as walk-ins last night, I was really anticipating our dinner. This is an all-you-can-eat place, but unlike many such venues, there is no buffet table or heating trays to choose from. Here, the waiters appear at your table with food on long skewers. You have the choice of accepting or refusing the offering. The first two rooms were filled to capacity, so we were seated in the third room with a few medium sized groups.

The appetizers and family style salad as first offerings were both delicious with fresh vegetables with some salmon and herring on the appetizer. Ron was allowed these morsels. After this, the waiters were slow to arrive at our table or had often emptied their skewer before reaching us. We saw shrimp pass us by twice, but it was not until we specifically asked for it an hour into our meal that we were able to get any. The prime rib ranged from too rare to too well done, but the ham was excellent. I had never had grilled pineapple before and the grilled mushrooms were excellent.

That said, with our single beer each, we paid within a few euros of what we paid at Chez Leontine on Friday night, but here we had substantially more food.

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