Picturesque Bruges

30 12 2013

I am still (at this point of blogging) wondering whether December is the busiest period for travels from London to Singapore. I just couldn’t believe it that all the flights out from London to Singapore were fully booked and whatever flights left are ridiculously expensive!! Gosh… Interestingly, there were still plenty of flights out from Paris and at much (x2) cheaper price. Since Eurostar connects London to Paris so efficiently, why not fly out from Paris instead? It was a no-brainer. Oh and since I will be flying out from Paris and I have already been to Paris before, why not do a little “detour” to Bruges for some sightseeing before going to Paris? Hahaha the traveller just would not missed any opportunity to roam around! A true blessing in disguise. Best thing is that my cousin happened to be available and also keen to visit Bruges so I had a great travel partner this time round 🙂

Minnewater

I  have heard so much great things about Bruges (or Brugge) and I was feeling a little afraid that it would be another tourist trap. Thank God, Bruges did live up to all the great reviews and my expectations. Often described as the “Venice of the North”, I would say that it is quite different from Venice in terms of architecture as well as the whole “feel” although the similarity would be both towns have lots of canals (though I would say Venice has more).

st john

The petite but picturesque town is just gorgeous. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, its charming canals lined with quaint houses formed a “post-card perfect painting”. We strolled along the clobber stone streets of the little town, passing by the Old St-John’s Hospital which is below sea-level, the Minnewater (also known as the Lake of Love), the famous 13th century belfry which houses a municipal carillon comprising 48 bells, the Beguinage, the Basilica of the Holy Blood, the Saint Salvator’s Cathedral, the Markt (aka Market Square), the Burg, etc. I felt as if I was transported back to the Middle Ages as most of Bruges city centre has preserved the architecture and “feel” of the past. Lovely little town with beautiful canals and graceful swarms. It was even better that this was the Christmas season and the markt has a Christmas market and an ice-skating rink!

swarns

markt

rink 2

ice skating

Food:

1) Belgium is known for its mussels and typically most food will be served with fries. We had the Belgium mussels and Flemish beef stew, all served with fries. So I seriously have no idea why it’s called “French Fries” and not “Belgium Fries” lol. I also highly recommend one to try out the Belgium beer. I love the Christmas brew though guys may find it a little sweet (it is ale).

1514334_10151845662877379_826564133_n

2) I would say that I had the best waffle in my life. Oh well, I am not exaggerating. My cousin would be able to attest to the great bliss and satisfaction that was flashed across my face when I was eating the waffle. By the way, I intended to keep the waffle for my train ride to Paris as I just finished a heavy lunch (with yummy Belgium mussels) but couldn’t resist the temptation of the hot waffle topped with chocolate so I ate them right after my lunch lol. So it must really be good as I was so already full and yet could eat the whole waffle and found that heavenly! ;=P

1486717_10151845668742379_918118160_n

Shopping:

1) I don’t think I need to tell anyone that Belgium is well-known for its chocolates. You see chocolate shops almost everywhere. Do buy yourself some (or as much as you can carry back haha). You can then decide whether chocolates are angels or the devils 🙂

1499646_10151845654297379_1862479784_n

2) You may also want to grab some ubiquitous lace which is a famous and nice souvenir.

Tips:

1) Bruges is just a short train ride (around 50 minutes) from Brussels, the capital of Belgium. Eurostar arrives at Brussels Midi station (also called Brussels-Zuid) and from there you can catch a connecting train to Bruges.

2) From Bruges train station, we decided to walk to the city centre (the Markt) as there are quite a number of sights lining from not too far from the train station to the Markt. Alternatively, there is a bus which runs from the train station to the Markt and costs 2 euros per trip.

3) The tourist information counter is just outside the train station. You can get free map of the town and also advice on what to see, where to go, how to go etc.

4) I have heard horror stories from friends who have been pickpocketed in Belgium (particularly in Brussels). My trip in Belgium has been pretty safe (thank God) and I would say that I didn’t have any unsafe feeling in Belgium as compared to other big cities like Rome. I would say the rule of thumb is to avoid dressing in a way that would shout “I am rich” and exercise the “traveller’s common sense and alert”.

5) Bruges is good for a full day trip or if you are a museum person, you can stay over a night.

6) Apparently, the city has a poor reputation in terms of its weather, with common damp and chilly weather. I was really lucky that the sun was bright and shining when I was there and the temperature was cool but comfortable 🙂

7) You could do a short stopover in Brussels to see the Grand Palace, Manneken Pis, Atomiun, etc. Based on expriences from various people, if you have at least 2.5 hours in between, it is possible to cover the important sights in Brussels.

8) Currency: Euro

Advertisements




Waterworld Venice

15 10 2012

Waiving goodbye to Milan, the carefree traveller set off towards Venice on the  2.5 hours train. I got a first glimpse of Venice as the train crossed the sea via the bridge linking Venice with the western mainland. If I have to use a word to describe Venice, I will say that this little city is fascinating. The city is surrounded by water, being surrounded by the sea with canals running through the whole city. The main form of transport of cause is by boats or the more touristy gondolas. It is interesting to see that people use the boats like how we used our cars and buses. What’s extremely fascinating to me was that the city (especially San Marco Place) being built not far above sea level will typically be flooded whenever there is a high tide. You can count me as lucky to be able to witness the slight flooding of San Marco place due to the earlier rain and the full moon (thus higher tides). There are lots of elevated platforms which looked like tables stacked one after another to form somewhat like a bridge and people walking on top of them. I heard from the locals that during a more serious flooding, even walking on these stepping boards will still be wet and people will be wearing rubber boots. Ok, I am glad I do not have to experience hugging my luggage across the flooded walkways to my hotel so no complains that I didn’t manage to “witness” that 🙂

Of the Italian cities that I have visited, I really love Venice. It is really so beautiful. Anyway, people always say that a picutre will speak more than a thousand words. So, here are the pictures which till now as I blogged, I am still going wow wow wow.

The beautiful Rialto Bridge taken early in the morning. There are four bridges across the Grand Canal and this is one of them, and the oldest of them all.

Another of the beautiful 4 bridges – Ponte dell’ Accademia:-

Ponte degli Scalzi which literally means “birdge of the barefoot”, one of the 4 bridges across Grand Canal.

The famous Bridge of Signs. You will be able to walk ON it if you visit the Doge’s Palace.


Tips:

1) I overheard a converstaion while I was in Florence that a lady was complaining to her friends that she would have enjoyed Venice much more if she was to go with them instead of her boyfriend. The interesting reason that she gave was that she felt that the beauty of Venice was to get lost amongst the little streets and alleys which her boyfriend frowned upon. For me, I do agree with her to a large extent even though as a typical Asian, I will have a list of places that I must make sure that I don’t miss. Wandering aimlessly through the streets and alleys in Venice is indeed a super nice feeling and it’s kind of difficult for me to describe the feeling. For the lack of better words, I will say that it feels “magical” and “fascinating”. So I will put this as the number 1 tip – Do get lost and enjoy getting lost in Venice 🙂

2) To get around Venice, the most economical way is by the water bus. There are a couple of different types of tickets ranging from a single trip, a 12 hours pass, a 24 hours pass and so on. If you buy the passes, you can hop on and off unlimited times during the 12 or 24 hours time frame. Make sure you validate your pass at the validation machine at the jetty. I find it useful as it is kind of “normal” to get lost in Venice. For me, I kind of enjoy getting lost and venturing to some unexpected places and of course unexpected shops. What gave me the comfort is that with the unlimited rides, whenever I was lost, I just have to keep walking to some waterbus stop and board the waterbus which will take me back to where I want to go.

3) With the unlimited rides pass, hope on to the waterbus which will take you through the Grand Canal and all round Venice. There are a couple of bus routes. Just check where your nearest busstop is and there’re maps of the routes there. I suggest that you hope on to anyone of them and let it take you one round. Just alight at any stop you want if you want to take some photos or walk around that area and then hope on to another waterbus. This will enable you to see much of the Grand Canal at the most economical way instead of joining those Grand Canal tours.

4) I strongly recommend that if you can, do stay at least a night in Venice. With that, you will be able to explore and wander around Venice or cruise along the Grand Canal during early morning or slightly later in the evening when there is less crowd. I really enjoyed my early morning cruise (around 7.15 am) down the serene and peaceful Grand Canal and taking in all the sights at their most blissful time.

5) Note on staying in Venice – Many hotels do not have elevators/lifts as they are mostly typical Venetian houses. So if you have accessibility issue, it will then be easier to find accomdation outside Venice. For those who are fine with steps, do note that the stairs can be pretty narrow so if you have a big luggage, make sure that you are able to handle carrying them up (and down) the stairs.

6) Do visit the San Marco Basilica. You will notice that there will be a long queue to get in but don’t be dishearten as the queue moved pretty quickly. Of course, Doge’s Palace besides the Basicila too. Of course, there are many nice places to visit in Venice. In fact, Venice itself is so nice that you can just wander around aimlessly and you will still enjoy it. That’s the marvelous part 🙂

7)  Like anyone who has been to Venice will tell you, if you want more reasonable price food, don’t dine at the restaurants along the canals or the main streets. Head off to one of the smaller streets at the back and the price will drop quite a fair bit. Oh yes, if you are a seafood fan (I am :)), Venice is one of the place to have nice seafood so indulge!

Shopping:

1) Just walk through the clock tower at San Marco Square and you will be in the luxury goods shopping district.

2) I know this is kind of touristy but if you want a special souvenir from Venice, I will surely recommend that you get a Venetian mask. Take note of the labels on the mask as a lot of the masks are now make in China. I know some people will say that many things nowadays are all made in China. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against China. But my personal view is that why do I need to travel all the way to Italy to get something made in China whereby it may be cheaper to get it directly from China itself. Also, some mask only state that they are “painted in Venice” which means that they are potentially not made in Italy. For masks made in Venice, there will be a certificate with the mask.  Also, the modern masks are mostly made of plastic (especially those made in China mask) whilst the original Venetian masks are typically made of reinforced paper. To get a better deal for authentic Venetian mask, try walking to the streets further away from the touristy areas.