Hello dear readers! I suggested in my last post that I was hoping to get back in to the habit of blogging regularly, ideally weekly, so I’m going to at the very least try and start the year well and I guess we’ll see how it pans out in the long run.
For a multitude of reasons things have gotten a little out of sync in terms of chronological travel blog posts but we’re going to rewind back to the, quite frankly ludicrous, year of 2019.
Some of you may recall that 2019 was a year of footballing adventures that defied any expectations I’ve ever had of Spurs. A strange, strange time that resulted in trips to Dortmund (Köln), Amsterdam and a Champions League final in Madrid (what!!?).
This story begins in Köln (Cologne). Now, I need not tell some of you about my love/hate relationship with Köln. It’s all love now and the end to this story will epitomise that but I’ve visited the city so many times that there has certainly been some anti-climatic feelings about visiting Köln.
This particular trip to the city was my fourth overall but more importantly my third visit in just three years – a tad too much time in one city. I had four nights booked off of work and I knew I couldn’t do the entirety of that in Köln, I decided upon a healthy balance of two nights in Köln and two nights somewhere else that was convenient enough to travel to.
I’ve been to this region a lot. I weighed up options in Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and looked for any and every bit of inspiration imaginable and perhaps unsurprisingly football served up that bit of inspiration. I scoured through the football schedule knowing that their had to be some European games on somewhere – that’s why I was here to begin with after all – to watch Tottenham in Dortmund on Tuesday night.
What games were on Wednesday night? What games were on Thursday night? Eintracht Frankfurt v Inter Milan? YES! Frankfurt’ll do! Sign me up for that! Four nights, two in Köln, two in Frankfurt – sorted!
Alas it turns out that Eintracht had planned ahead and sold tickets months in advance to its most loyal supporters. They’d sold tickets earlier in the season on the possibility that Eintracht’s European exploits continued so tickets for a game only confirmed in February had been sold in the prior December. The game was guaranteed to be a home sell out crowd – Inter Milan a fitting occasion for those loyal supporters who’d signed up blindly but an absolute nuisance for a daytripper such as myself.
I was out of luck in terms of obtaining a ticket with the home supporters but how difficult would it be to get tickets as an Inter Milan away fan? I can be Italian for 90 minutes, right?
Sadly I was out of luck there too. This was probably the ‘glamour’ tie of the competition that week and a great match-up but I wouldn’t be attending. I figured I’d just have to settle for soaking up the atmosphere in Frankfurt and then finding a pub to watch the game in later that evening.
I flew out to Köln with the intention of being in Frankfurt two days later but there was this nagging voice eating away at me. “Why are we going to Frankfurt again?”
Perhaps I was judging it too harshly but I had no real desire to go to Frankfurt. Fellow travel blogger Marion actually sells it very well here but as it got closer and closer I couldn’t shake this feeling that I wasn’t actually that bothered about visiting Frankfurt. For football it made absolute sense but without a ticket I lost the only interest I had in visiting the city.
I hadn’t yet booked trains from Köln to Frankfurt and given I was flying home from Köln too I didn’t really have a need to go to Frankfurt. I had free cancellation for the hotel that I’d booked so I had no financial investment weighing me down either.
I repeatedly mulled it over on Monday evening in Köln. If not Frankfurt, where? I’ve been to this region so many times. Other German cities, the Netherlands, Belgium, France.. I explored several different options, calculated the time and costs involved and whether they were worthwhile.
Amsterdam was one place particularly calling for me to return. Ironically I ended up back there a few weeks later anyway so I’m glad I didn’t waste this trip on Amsterdam. I’d resigned myself to the reality that Frankfurt was where I’d be heading on Wednesday morning.
I woke up on Tuesday and gave myself one last glimpse, one last opportunity to find an alternative and another at the top of my wishlist jumped out at me – Brugge or Bruges as you may know it.
I’d been to Brugge before but I feel like it’s somewhere that I had unfinished business with. Firstly I only visited on a daytrip, that’s actually a good amount of time in Brugge but the prospect of staying overnight really did appeal to me. Secondly I’d previously visited with friends, I really enjoyed the company and we had a great time in Brugge together but there’s something about discovering a place solo that also really appealed to me – a new way to experience the destination. Then lastly, I had no photos from my time in Brugge. Technology failed me and I arrived in the city without any way of capturing the occasion. Fortunately I was with friends and so there are photos from our time there but when I blogged about it the first time I had to pinch photos from my friends Kelly and Walker to help “tell the story”.
I felt inspired to go back to Brugge and managed to find a hotel that was cheaper than the one I was staying at in Frankfurt. The train tickets were also cheaper so it was a bit of a no-brainer. Take a cheaper trip to somewhere I actually wanted to go to or stick with “the plan” and spend more to visit somewhere I wasn’t that fussed about?
Spontaneity won the day! I’d come to Germany with the intention of spending four days in Germany but a last minute change of plans meant that I was actually whisking off to another country for a couple of days – Belgium, here I come!
On Wednesday morning I woke up excited and checked out of my “usual” hotel in Köln. See you soon Germany, I’m off to Belgium!
There isn’t a direct train from Cologne to Bruges so I would have to change in Brussels. I made sure to catch quite an early train which meant I arrived in to Brussels before lunch. Had I not also been to Brussels so many times I might have been inclined to have taken a little detour over to Grand Place and had a wander but I decided I’d just head onwards to Brugge.
A little while later I’d arrived and tried to recall which way I needed to go. I’d previously visited in December when the city is much busier, it’s a pretty place to visit at Christmas time but crowds are much less sparse in March and although I had a vague idea of where I needed to go, the option of “follow everyone else” wasn’t really much of an option on this occasion.
I have quite the habit of romanticising a lot of the places I visit and before returning I pondered if Brugge would be as pretty as I remembered it. It didn’t take long for me to be reminded of its beauty. Walking along its cobbled roads in to the heart of the city is just breathtakingly beautiful. It’s such a magical place. I kept stopping to take photo after photo.
By the time I reached the centre it was too soon to check in to my hotel so I went and found myself some lunch – opting for something typically flemish – pizza?
Alright, maybe not but it was beginning to rain and so I just ducked in to this Italian restaurant a few yards in front of me that seemed as good a spot as any to grab some lunch at.
After lunch I just went for a wander. One of the things I particularly love about Brugge is its a good place to get lost in. Head in any direction and you’re likely to find something pretty or discover something you’ve not seen previously. I’d been here before, I had nothing that I particularly wanted to do but I could just walk aimlessly for hours here.
Eventually I popped over to my hotel to check in and drop my things off. I relaxed for a little but before my attention turned to plans for the evening. I had a quick look online for any potential evening entertainment but struck out so decided I’d just go have some dinner, enjoy a few Belgian beers and perhaps watch the evening’s football somewhere. Being quite a touristy place means it isn’t difficult and in the end I returned to an Irish pub we’d gone to on the previous trip.
Following on from a few beers I wandered back in the direction of my hotel. Although Brugge is quite a touristy place, it’s largely a popular day-trip for a lot of people and certainly at this time of year was pretty quiet after dark. I had much of Brugge to myself and it was peaceful and pretty in equal measure which was a great opportunity to try and capture some night-time photos without hordes of people around before heading off to sleep.
The next morning I woke up and had a relaxed start before mapping out my plans for the day. Having not done so on my first visit I was really keen to climb Brugge’s famous Belfry on this occasion and made that my first stop of the day.
When we’d come previously there looked to be long queues but fortunately I arrived soon after they opened their doors and also being March it wasn’t so busy anyway. The Belfry operate a one-in, one-out policy so you might have a little wait for other visitors to make their way down again but I didn’t have to wait particularly long.
It’s a 366 step climb to the top of the Belfry, I don’t recall it being particularly strenuous if I’m honest but that might just be because it was a few years ago now. The views at the top are wonderful and I lucked out with the weather as it was a sunny day so had no problems enjoying those views and made sure to get a few photos from high above the city.
I lucked out with the timing because it wasn’t long before clouds were overcast and rain was on the way. I wanted to go and find myself a spot to grab some lunch but the weather forced me to lazily duck in to one of the first restaurants I came across in the main market square of the city.
I asked for a table for one, knowing it’d likely be expensive but took one look at the prices and my stomach sank. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have stepped in there in the first place, it was only rubbish weather that had sealed my fate.
“Well this is it.. I’ve already sat down, I’m obliged to eat here now.”
“Wait, no Jason. You don’t! You’ve not even ordered anything yet, just get up and walk out!”
“but I’ve sat down. I can’t change my mind now..”
It’s weird how our minds work isn’t it? I was borderline contemplating staying there for the most illogical of reasons.
“I have to commend you on your parenting. Your son Jason is so polite and well-mannered. Even when we handed him the sandwich menu charging 500 euros each he refused to walk away. We were even taking bets in the back as to how far we could push our luck. What a great guy!”
Fortunately I came to my senses. I know that those hot-spots are perfect for lazy tourists such as myself on this occasion and that you can probably get away with charging a bit more for below-par food but these prices were taking the piss a little too much. I could find somewhere else, surely?
I braved the weather and scurried out of there as quickly as I could. Alright, where next?
I took a little wander and perhaps I’d exaggerated just how bad the weather was. A little drizzle wouldn’t hurt right? I’m English for crying out loud! I should be used to the rain!
As it was the Belgian weather is as temperamental as the English so it wasn’t too long before it had brightened up again. I didn’t have much fortune finding a place for lunch but I was content just wandering along Brugge’s canals and discovering new walking routes within the city. After about an hour of not really doing anything I stumbled upon a small shop selling Belgian waffles and figured that’d keep me going until dinner later.
You might be sensing a pattern here but my afternoon featured more wandering, I stumbled upon a small area called Begijnhof which was home to a church, some pretty houses and a gardened area with numerous daffodils adding some colour to place. It’s a pretty World Heritage Site and the reason for that status is its history as a place inhabited by nuns and women who’ve led a celibate life – today it’s still inhabited by nuns and local women who’ve chosen to remain unmarried.
A little beyond the Begijnhof area was the Minnewaterpark which is home to more beautiful buildings, gardens and landmarks such as the ‘Poertoren’ (gunpowder tower).
Admittedly we’d only visited for the day previously but given its proximity to the train station we’d somehow bypassed this entire area of Brugge on my previous visit. It’s a pretty part of the city and was a nice accidental discovery. In better weather I’m sure the park and gardens are a very popular picnic spot to enjoy on a warm afternoon.
The afternoon quickly disappeared and my focus shifted towards evening plans again. I popped back to the hotel for a brief wind-down and this time decided I’d do a little research after the lunch debacle.
“How about we find a restaurant online Jason and then there’ll be no surprises when you sit down!?”
“Hmm, that sounds a little too logical but okay, we’ll give it a try.”
I found somewhere suitable and ventured over to this cosy restaurant not too far from where I was staying. I arrived soon after they’d opened so luckily it wasn’t too busy, not that I imagine too many places are on a Thursday in March. It was a nice way to begin the evening.
From there I checked out a couple of pubs in the city before winding back to the Irish pub in the hope of seeing a little more football. They didn’t appear to be showing the Eintracht v Inter game so I had to settle for watching Arsenal lose instead – a small consolation you could say! Haha.
The next day was my last in Brugge and indeed in Europe. My flight home from Köln wasn’t until 11:30pm so I had plenty of time ahead of me to still enjoy the day. I had quite a lazy start to my day before checking out of my hotel and hitting the streets.
I decided before leaving I should pay at least one Belgian brewery a visit so swung by the De Halve Maan brewery for a beer. I think they offer tours too but I was content to give that a miss on this occasion.
After a beer my attention switched towards lunch and I decided I’d need to force myself in to trying a local delicacy that I’ve often steered clear of in Belgium – the Moules Frites!
Long-time readers will recall stories of Weetabix Boy and know that growing up at times I was often quite fussy when it came to food. I’ve definitely got better over the years, I’m much more adventurous now and on many trips prior to this one but the thought of eating mussels has never appealed to me.
I’d been to Brugge before of course but also Gent, Liege, Brussels a few times and even the French city of Lille which has many Flemish influences but never had I plucked up the courage to give mussels a shot.
However it was weighing on my mind and I told myself I would not be leaving the city without trying them. I’d say I went on a hunt for the famous ‘Moules Frites’ but let’s be clear, they’re on just about every restaurant menu in Belgium. It wasn’t a difficult hunt. I found a restaurant that took my fancy and ordered this much-avoided dish up to this point.
The verdict? Underwhelming.
Maybe I am just that picky but I think part of the problem is that it’s work to get to the edible parts. I don’t want to have to fight with my food to enjoy it and even getting to the “good stuff” I was largely underwhelmed. That’s nothing against this particular restaurant, I am sure it was a good “Moules Frites” but it just didn’t take my fancy at all.
The good news is that I tried it. I can safely bet I’ll never have it again but at least I know where I stand with Mussels. Belgium nailed it with its waffles, chocolate and beers but its national dish is a bit of a disappointment.
In hindsight it feels like the trip ended on a downer but I didn’t leave Brugge feeling that way. at all. I’d had a good time and was pleased to be leaving with more memories of this beautiful fairytale town. I walked back to the train station and headed onwards to Brussels and then back to Köln.
The perk of so many visits to Köln was that I knew my way around pretty well. I still had time to kill before my flight and I didn’t have to worry about finding my bearings after getting off of the train. I wandered down to one of the restaurants down by the river and grabbed myself some dinner and a beer as my finale to this trip.
I don’t often do a Monday-Friday trip. My motto is to maximise as much travel time as I can with my time off and working Monday to Friday means I’ll almost always arrive home again at some point on the Sunday.
I’d reached the end of my time in Brugge and I pondered whether I extend my stay a little. I thought about ditching my flight home and perhaps getting a train (Eurostar) home from Brussels later in the week. Obviously I didn’t do that because here I was in Köln but that same voice was speaking to me “why am I going home on a Friday?”.
I’ve grown to love Köln and I sat there drinking a beer feeling warm and fuzzy about where I was (what do they put in the beer!?). I didn’t want to go home yet. Three months earlier I was whingeing about coming here but we can forget that part, can’t we?
My love/hate relationship with Köln was in its love mode and I started considering my options. How much would an extended trip cost me? Train or flight home? Hotel for two nights, or even one night – whatever works.
I added it all up and came to the conclusion it’d only be something like £6,209 to stay in Köln for an extra five minutes – “it’d totally be worth it Jason, honest!”
Common sense got the better of me again, cruelly this time. I couldn’t justify how much it’d cost me to stay in Germany for two more nights, nor one more night. It was bloody tempting but the sensible side won this battle. Probably for the best given I had no clue that I’d be visiting Amsterdam and Madrid in the near future.
If it couldn’t be one more night, it at the very least had to be one more beer. I was prolonging the inevitable. I knew that it was time to go home. Two nights in Köln, two nights in Brugge. It had been a lovely trip, topped off with a Spurs win, but I slowly made my way back to the airport and said Auf Wiedersehen to Deutschland.
Having visited Germany in 2013, 2014, 2015 (x2), 2016 (x3), 2017 (x2) & 2019 it’s sad to say that I haven’t been back since but I’m sure the next German adventure won’t be too far away.
Until then, stay tuned!