I took a break, but I’m back to writing about our trip! Day 6 was a Sunday and our all-day trip to Bruges, Belgium. We went to bed early the night before, and my alarm went off sometime around 5am that morning. We had to be downstairs before 6:30am for our tour guide to pick us up.
When I woke I had a text from my mom from the middle of the night saying my dad was up all night sick. Neither Josh or I felt bad, but my mom needed to stay at the hotel with my dad. Josh and I got ready and mom met us downstairs to talk to the tour guide. The person who picked us up ended up not being our guide, but a guide for another tour who was sent to pick us up to take us to the main office to meet our tour. She was so nice and so helpful. She told my mom that there were 24 hour pharmacies in Paris, but she may need to take a cab because there wasn’t one nearby. She also said that doctors in Paris will come to you, so if my dad was still feeling bad that the hotel desk could call a doctor for him. Josh and I left a little reluctantly, but there was no point in all four of us missing the tour, so we went.
The guide who picked us up had one more couple to pick up before dropping us off at the tour company’s office. We had a nice chat with her and she (being a tour guide herself) told us lots of interesting things about Paris as we drove. The other couple ended up being from the South as well (small world) and we had a pleasant conversation with them, too. The guide let us out at the curb near the office, where upwards of 100 other tourists were waiting in line to check in for their tours. We had plenty of time, so we waited and chatted some more with our new friends. The check-in process was quick, and we soon had our stickers and bus number. A few tours loaded up and left before our bus could pull in, but we didn’t have to wait outside in the cold too long.
The bus was a very nice coach with comfortable seats and tray tables with cup holders. We settled in towards the front where we had a nice view. The bus ride took a little over three hours, with a stop half way for a restroom break and snacks. The place where we stopped was almost identical to the places along the interstate in Florida with fuel and a large indoor space with restaurants and convenience items. I think we call them service plazas or travel plazas? Anyway we were able to purchase fresh pastries and coffees and went into the convenience store area to get Oranginas for the bus. They sell them in plastic bottles similar to our 20 ounce sodas in the US, with other options like Blood Orange flavor and diet. Before our stop at the rest area, it was still dark outside. The driver kept the lights in the bus dimmed so people mostly slept. After the stop our two tour guides (two older ladies) talked to us a little over the speaker system. They told us about Belgium and Bruges and the history of the royal family. They pointed out churches and villages off in the distance as well. I enjoyed taking pictures out the window of the French countryside, then Belgium after we crossed the border. It was a very anti-climactic crossing as we didn’t stop or see anything delineating the border.
We arrived in Bruges around 11:30am I want to say. The whole tour group (about 40+ people) was split in half between the two guides for a quick walking tour of the city. I say “tour” loosely because it was really more of a brisk walk from where the bus dropped us off (and would return to pick us up) to the center square. The guide was a short older woman who seemed determined to lose us as we twisted and turned through crowded streets. How we managed to say with her is beyond me! She would stop for a quick word or two about where we were standing or what could be seen, then I’d be taking a picture and turn around and she would be half a block down the street. Anyway, the brief tour didn’t bother us much and we got an overall idea of where we could/should go in our free time. She left our group at the cathedral in the big square and told us what time to meet back for the return bus.
I’m doing things a little differently today and making a slideshow of all the pictures from Bruges. It’s hard to caption them all, so take a look and then keep reading!
First we stopped in at the public bathroom there behind the cathedral. It was .50 euros, but very clean and the stalls were thankfully large enough for me to shimmy into my thermals that I brought along. I didn’t wear them on the bus for fear of being too hot, but I definitely needed them in Bruges! Last I checked on my phone that day, it was -2 degrees Celsius, or about 28 degrees Fahrenheit. COLD. Josh likes to tell everyone that the sun never came up that day. We were surrounded by tall buildings, and indeed the sun never was straight overhead since it’s winter, so it did feel like the sun never came up. We used our portable wifi to find out which direction to go, then set off to explore and find a Belgian chocolatier that a coworker told me about. We found Dumon easily and happily went inside out of the freezing cold. Dumon has a small chocolate counter and plenty of pre-packaged chocolate to take home to friends. I picked out a few solid chocolate bars (a few to eat, a few as gifts) and a bag of mixed chocolates, plus a little box of assorted chocolates to take home. We decided to stay and have a hot chocolate, which was an excellent idea. First you choose your chocolate from their extensive list, then you sit and wait for your hot chocolate. The girl working the counter reappeared with a tray with two glasses of steamed milk plus two spoons with our selected chocolate in a solid block on the end. We were instructed to stick the spoons in our milk and stir! I got white chocolate and Josh got one she recommended. Best. Hot Chocolate. Ever. Oh, so good!
I took video of the square in Bruges with my phone!
We spent the rest of our free hours wandering the city, taking pictures, shopping the Christmas markets, and taking in the town. We were told by our guide that a sit-down lunch would monopolize most of our free time, so instead we got freshly grilled hotdogs and sausages with cooked onions from a cart in the square. We washed them down with a cup of vin chaud (hot wine). I didn’t find anything in the markets that I had to have, though I did almost buy a faux fur hat because I was so cold, but I resisted the temptation. I decided to buy a Christmas ornament in one of the Christmas shops we entered, and surprisingly it made it back to the states in one piece. Most of what I remember of Bruges is how cold we were. It’s a quaint, beautiful town and I would visit again. It was crowded with tourists just a few days after Christmas, but that didn’t take away from the charm.
We popped into a waffle shop to grab a Belgian Waffle to go. We watched the guy put the already-made waffle into a waffle iron to heat it up. Who would have thought! Then we made our way back to the meeting point for the tour and met our guide who again did her best to lose us as we wound back through the streets to the bus. We settled in for the long ride back to Paris as it started getting dark. I hate that we didn’t get to see the Christmas lights and decorations all lit up. Once again we stopped half way, this time changing bus drivers because the first one reached his limit for the day. One of the tour guides instructed us to be prompt getting back to the bus because it was already getting late. They gave us about 40 minutes. This plaza had a fast food burger-style place, where we got a large order of french fries to gobble down. We loaded up on snacks and drinks from the convenience store and went back out to the bus. The new driver had not come back to unlock the bus just yet, and though we were right on time we ended up having to wait out in the cold. The line of tired tourists was getting a little impatient when the tour guide came to check the bus door. It was locked, but she roused the ire of one of the other passengers. An older Chinese man had been leaning against the front of the bus, obviously agitated at waiting in the cold. He lit into the tour guide (in English, much to our amusement). “What time did you tell us to be back at the bus? Did you not say to be prompt? Well what time is it now? You said to be on time and now we are standing in the cold! This is unacceptable! It is very cold!” The poor tour guide was polite and told him she was upset at waiting in the cold, too. Maybe we were just tired, but this was giggle inducing for Josh and me.
We arrived back at the tour company’s office around 8:30pm. We had to wait just a bit for a driver to take us back to the hotel, but he was friendly and it was a quick ride. He was a tour guide also, so we got even more Paris insight. This was one of the things I really liked about that day. The people who transport you in Paris are other guides. The lady that morning told us they all take turns picking up those who purchase hotel pick-up as part of their tour. Then in the evenings anyone who is available is assigned to drop off as well. The guides (possibly with exception of our older lady who tried to lose us) were all so super friendly.
I haven’t mentioned yet which tour and which company we booked with. This one was purchased from Viator.com and is called “Paris to Bruges Day Trip”. It’s operated locally by ParisCityVision. We paid extra for hotel pick-up and drop-off. They sent my mom an email shortly before the trip to confirm our hotel location and pick-up time. One note about my parents not being able to take the tour. They didn’t make a big fuss, but they were never refunded any of their tour price. It’s totally not required for a company to refund you if you get sick at the last minute, but we did ask and never got a reply. This wouldn’t keep me from purchasing a tour from them again, but in my opinion my parents should have been offered a partial or good-faith refund, or perhaps a voucher for a future tour. I probably feel this way because I’m used to taking cruises with companies like Carnival who would absolutely refund or give a voucher in the same situation. Otherwise we really enjoyed our tour and we felt pretty well taken care of and like we were always given the information we needed. I was a little worried about being left behind in Bruges, but we went to the meeting point a little early and had no problems.
My dad was feeling better by the time we got back from Bruges. We still don’t know if he had food poisoning or just a 24 hour bug, but he was fine the rest of the trip. Thank goodness! We all had to pack our suitcases that night and get ready for our trip the next day to Strasbourg. After almost a full week in the same hotel, that was a bit of a challenge!
Next post will be about our TGV train ride to Strasbourg and our first night in the magical Captial of Christmas!