There was no wait for a cab, so I hopped right into the first one spotted. The cabbie spoke great English and, as we got closer to town, asked if this was my first time in Bruges. It was, I admitted, a reply that caused him to raise his hands in front of him as if to showcase the view and said, "Well, you've seen it all." That's one way of saying "Bruges is really small."
My hotel, the Hotel De TuilerieŽn, was something out of a fairytale and I chose it for this reason. I had a four-poster bed, a bookcase filled with vintage books and other trinkets, and a bathroom fitted with vintage faucets and cream-colored tiles. It may not be for everyone as it's not all that modern, but it had the desirable old world charm you'd want visiting a town like this.
After throwing down my bag, I wandered the hotel for a bit. Not that big so it didn't take long, though the highlight (for me at least) was finding autographed photos from the main cast of In Bruges, a great dark comedy I highly suggest you all check out. I'm not really one for autographs, but what made it such a highlight was reading Colin Farrell's words of encouragement to the hotel. He signed his name, then wrote "Good luck!" Good luck? Gotta love actors.
Don't you hate when people stereotype things? All people in Texas have accents, they only wear striped shirts and berets in Paris, the people are really rude in Manhattan, etc. Now, while I know firsthand that the aforementioned stereotypes are NOT true, there is one stereotype that I found to be very true: Belgium makes good chocolate...and lots of it. After venturing maybe ten steps outside the hotel, I found myself inside a chocolate shop. Now way was I going to leave empty handed, so I pulled two Euros from my pocket and handed it to the shop owner, not really caring what confectionaries she handed back to me.
Fun fact: Bruges, a place that I previously knew almost nothing about, was once the "chief commercial city" of the world. Yes, the world. Thanks to its canals and proximity to the sea, Bruges was once a major player in our global economy.
If you're not claustrophobic, something I highly suggest is climbing to the top of the Belfry. Built in 1240, the Belfry has remained one of Bruges' largest and most important buildings. I learned that many of the city's most important documents were once stored inside, including their city charter. Speaking of, the city charter was kept behind a pair of wrought iron doors that had ten locks. Eight of the keys were kept by deacons and the other two were kept by a separate city district and the mayor, respectively. What this meant was the iron doors couldn't be opened unless all ten people in charge of the keys agreed to open it.
By the way, I'm really serious about only climbing to the top if you're not claustrophobic. It's a tight squeeze up there and you'll absolutely feel like you're back in the 1300s when you find yourself grabbing onto a rope to avoid falling. But hey, the views are worth it.
Bruges is beautiful. Did I mention that already? I think I did. You should plan on going there at least once, but I think going to Bruges only once would be like trying to eat only one piece of Bruges chocolate...not possible.
Tomorrow: The Newbie Traveler shares what he's learned from his first visit to these European cities.
[Photos: Andy Miles]