Travel Adventures and Romance in Bruges

Romantic cobble stoned streets, cozy sidewalk cafes, dreamy canals, ivy covered houses, historic churches, charming market squares. It really does not get much more lovey-dovey than this popular city in Belgium. So if you are wondering whether I was visiting Bruges in Belgium with my significant other, going on romantic canal rides and eating Belgian chocolates, I will have to disappoint.

I traveled through Europe this winter with my parents. Not exactly your ideal travel companions in one of most romantic cities in Europe, but I did not let that bother me. Instead of strolling hand in hand with a significant other, I traipsed after my parents, my role models when it comes to relationships, having been married for over 35 years.

Day 1

It took us about 40 minutes to get to Bruges from Ghent. We left the car in a parking lot located right next to the hotel that we had booked and we did the check-in. It was not clear to us that they will let us enterso soon, because we had the time of entry at 12.00 in the morning. There were still a couple of hours, but they did not give us any problems and we were able to leave things at the hotel before start touring the city.

When we arrive in Bruges, we realize that the city is much smaller than Ghent, and as easy to walk on as the previous one. We left in the direction of the Minnewaterpark or the Lake of Love, a quiet and romantic place full of swans and ducks. Here we spent some time until we reach the Beguinage (Begijnhof), an area today inhabited by the nuns of the Order of Saint Benedict which is located right next to the park.

The access to the patio of the Beaterio is free. Around this patio there are a series of small white houses destined to house widows or single women who lived a monastic life. Along the Beguinage and the Park, there are several horse carriages to visit the best known places in the city. There is a quietness and peacefulness here that compliments the whitewashed houses and makes for a nice stroll away from the busier city streets.

On the way to Simon Stevin Square we passed by the Church of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk) which houses the Madonna with the child created by Michelangelo. At first we had intended to enter to visit but the price of the ticket seemed expensive so we left without seeing it.

From there we go to the St. Salvator's Cathedral, the oldest church in Bruges. Here we also had the intention of entering to see the interior, but this time we found it closed. I thought it would be for the hour, but we returned in the afternoon to see if we had more luck and still could not visit.

We continue walking, visiting lots of chocolate shops but we did not buy anything. I still haven't found what I was looking for. We took the opportunity to eat a pizza buffet. A little later we arrived at the beautiful square of Grote Mark, the main square of Bruges, and perhaps the place that I liked most of all we visited on this trip.

The square is surrounded by beautiful buildings and it is the belfry (Belfort). We thought about going up to see the views of the city but here, unlike in Ghent, there is no elevator, and that day we were not very motivated to climb its 366 steps. Right next to the Grote Mark is the Burg Square, in which is the City Hall and also one of the most important places in Bruges, the Basilica of the Holy Blood (Heilig-BloedBasiliek).

When we arrived there were about twenty minutes for the basilica to open. So we decided to take advantage of the time by entering a chocolate shop located right next to the Basilica, where you can see different metal boxes to fill them with assorted chocolates. We bought one and the chocolates were, of course delicious and then we keep the boxes we choose as a souvenir!

After shopping we finally entered the Basilica and were lucky that just at that moment the ceremony was going to take place in which the relic is shown to the public. Access to the Basilica is free but the entrance to the Museum to see the relic is paid. We arrived just at the time of the ceremony did not have to pay to see it, where we find a relic that contains the blood of Christ inside. The exterior facade of the Basilica is really beautiful.

When we finished visiting the beautiful Basilica of the Holy Blood we wandered over to Rozenhoedkaai, which is the most photographed spot in all of Bruges. This corner and this channel goes out in practically all the guides of the city and it is one of the most known corners. The site is undoubtedly beautiful, and from that point some of the boats that run through the canals of the city.

Looking across the Dijver River at the old cobble stoned houses, with the Belfort Tower in the background, it is easy to see why this is the quintessential spot. Between the canal boat line ups and the vast number of photographers taking their shots of the most photographed spot in Bruges, I managed to get a couple of photos as well.

We were left with the desire to do one of these cruises on the canals here or in Ghent. It was so cold the days we were there that we did not feel like riding the boats, although it must be a completely different way of seeing the cities. As I say, we are left with the desire to do it so we already have an excuse to go back!

Then we wander a bit aimlessly through the streets of Bruges, next to the canals, until we reach the park (Kruisvest) where the four mills that are still preserved in Bruges. We toured the park a bit and took some pictures next to the mills. Two of them could be visited inside (Sint Janshuismolen and Koeleweimolen) but not when we were there. For a change we found them closed and we could not enter any.

We decided to go to dinner at Philipstockstraat, one of the most recommended places to have dinner in Bruges. When we arrived we were told that we had to wait about 40 minutes to get a table because it was completely full. So we left.

At night we went through the same illuminated streets. Bruges has a special charm when it gets dark. The channels, the squares, and the streets looks different and even more beautiful at night.

Travel Adventures and Romance in Bruges

Day 2

We woke up pretty early, and Bruges woke up covered in snow. We left the city about 8 in the morning and two hours later (30 minutes later than planned) we arrived at Charleroi Airport. We stopped to fill the petrol car tank before returning it, and left the car in the parking lot. We had breakfast at the airport and at 11.30 we embark in the flight without any problem or delay.

What I really loved about Bruges the most were the quieter places I found when I wandered away from the main city center. The still canals, deserted bridges, cobble stoned streets, old narrow alleyways, and intricately carved stone facades on the houses really pulled me into the charming atmosphere.

It was here, in these places, where I could truly sense the romance of Bruges. I'm a sucker for old cobble stoned alleyways and this one was no exception. I love the colors of the yellow wall, mixed with the hints of green from the flower pots, along with the various shades of burnt orange and brown bricks.

Would I visit Bruges again? Yes! With all the romantic architecture, beautiful cityscapes, and charming canals I could have easily spent a few more days here discovering the area.

Travel through Sunderbans Tiger Reserve

Not far from Calcutta we find the largest mangrove forest in the world: The Sundarbans. One of the places on the planet where you can find the Bengal Tiger. So, as I promised you, I will speak today of this fantastic place that is in the Bay of Bengal separating India from Bangladesh.

For several areas in this national park, a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, there are camps where you can stay for the night and from which you go out to explore the mangrove forest. As in any self-respecting camp, there was no lack of bonfires, songs, food and a good beer. But, from there, the best begins.

But do not think it's so easy to see a Bengal Tiger. In the Sundarbans it is a lottery and it is very difficult. I'm not going to say it's like going to Loch Ness and seeing Nessie. It is also true that you know it in advance and the expectation is low. Do not be fooled. There are better places to see the Bengal Tiger.

Day 1

Arriving at the Sunderbans is already an adventure in itself, because from Calcutta we take a bus that leaves us in a town that we do not even know the name of. Another bus that goes by there takes us to Sonakhali. From there we take a boat to cross the river and get to Gosaba. In Gosaba we take a cyclerickshaw to Pakhirala. Finally we take another boat to Sajnekhali, but when we get there the only accommodation is full so we have to return by boat to Pakhirala and sleep there.

On the way we crossed rice fields and adobe villages, where people live as a hundred years ago in total balance with nature, and some town that serves as a market for the sale of vegetables, chickens and fish to the surrounding villages.

Here almost no independent traveler arrives, and that is only 4 hours from Calcutta, which is full of westerners. We intuit that it is the power of the wonderful Lonely Planet, which states that visiting it on your own is difficult and you have to take very complicated transport connections, which discourages backpackers from approaching here. Now we try to go to those sites that is discouraged by the Lonely Planet guide and not go to those that are recommended.

In the guesthouse there is a group who have left their wives in Calcutta to come here to enjoy. They invite us to beer and to go with them the next day on the boat they have hired. We accept both invitations.

Travel through Sunderbans Tiger Reserve

Day 2

With the first rays of the sun we wake up and after a chai we embark on the adventure with the people we met yesterday. Fear gives us to think how they are going to behave, because the previous night they were smoking and drinking till late at night.

The Ganges delta forms a labyrinth of mangroves and canals that flow into the Bay of Bengal making it the largest mangrove and river delta in the world and home to the largest population of Bengal tigers.

Of course we do not see the tigers but to get here is very worthwhile for the landscape formed by navigable channels, reaching almost to the open sea and being very close to Bangladesh. We are also rewarded by observing a crocodile and several species of birds including the colorful martin fisherman.

The group is great with us. They offer us lunch of rice with chicken and afternoon coffee. It is extremely hot, I start to get sunburn. I hide under my umbrella. Even with the speed of the boat no air breeze comes to refresh us. After two hours we moor on one of the mangrove shores. We sink in the forest. We meet thousands of crabs that run away every time we set foot on the ground. We go past three houses. I find it amazing that people can live here because of the conditions and the extremely remote place we are in.

We finally arrive at the tower, go up and discover the landscape. It is nothing particularly exceptional, except for a view of the forest. The tower is not high enough to be really interesting and considering the way to go we decide that it's not worth for tourists here. We finally find ourselves on the side of the houses that we crossed.

We then take the boat back to the crocodile project. This is a place where crocodiles are allowed to grow in good conditions. So we arrive at the scene but face a first problem: the water has slightly withdrawn and the level is not high enough to allow our boat to reach the pontoon. Finally throwing a rope on this side, surrounding it with a pillar and then using the strength of all the men on the boat we manage to hoist it close enough to another boat so that we can pass, borrowing one on the shore.

There are different enclosures depending on their age with the final destination of large canals where they can swim freely. Those who are there are really huge! I forgot to mention that at that time the sweltering heat was replaced by rain. In this country the umbrella is definitely an indispensable object ...

After going around, we sit around a tea before we decide to go to our boat. A new problem arises. The water is always at low tide. It is impossible to roll back the boat since it has no reverse. It will be necessary to wait until it is completely immersed to be able to leave. Night falls and I joke that at this rate we will spend the night with crocodiles.

Finally after a long wait, we leave, at night on our small boat. I lie down by leaning my head on my bag. In fact it's a simple boat, protected by my umbrella and I try to rest a little.

The excursion on the boat lasts all day and we arrive at Pakhirala at night.