24 Hours in Bruges

Before leaving for Belgium I heard over and over again that Brussels wasn’t worth visiting and Bruges is where we should have planned to spend most of our time. It’s the Venice of the north, they say. It’s like a fairytale. And as Venice is one of my favorite cities in the world, and the two fairytale like cities I’ve visited have forever charmed me, it was hard not to have some regrets that we’d only planned a day trip.

However, I have to say I am pleased it worked out as it did. We went on a random weekend in January and Bruges was so full of tourists it almost felt like a resort. Brussels was big and exciting, and was meant to be international. Bruges was gorgeous but felt set up mainly for tourism and a day trip with the following itinerary was the perfect amount of time to see and do everything we wanted. I’m sure long term you could get off the tourist track and see the local side, but I don’t think adding a day or two would have accomplished that.

If you’re traveling by train from Brussels, note that there are stops at multiple stations in the city, so you can find the most convenient one based on where you’re staying. ALSO please note that a relatively direct train will take you about 90 minutes, and the others will take MUCH LONGER and move at what one might describe as the pace of a snail. We are obviously smart people who planned to take the fast track there… back however, we just got on the next available train. It was a mistake, but I read nearly an entire book during the never-ending journey, so at least there’s a bright side.

Upon arrival, you can follow the hordes of people to the city center. I was not expecting Bruges to be so touristy, but I swear for every local person I saw, there were ten tourists. For breakfast, we went to Marie’s House, because we heard they had good waffles. With the caveat that we weren’t able to try their signature dish, I have to say I wouldn’t recommend them. First, they don’t start serving waffles until 2:00, so you have to time it right (aka waffles aren’t breakfast for anyone in the world but Americans), but also, a bottle of ketchup randomly exploded all over us and the staff saw it all happen and did not react. They didn’t give us anything to clean it up without us having to ask, or try to replace the food or drinks that were covered in ketchup. It was all just a bit meh. Instead, you should try Books and Brunch, which sounds incredible and about which I’ve only heard good things (though be sure to have a reservation).

From there head to Markt, the main town square. Markt is gorgeous. Take some pictures of the buildings, check out the horse drawn carriages, and maybe stop into some of the bookstores. They all have an English section, and the books range from popular current fiction and non-fiction, to books about the local city, which I love.

After getting your fill of Markt, head over to Rozenhoedkaai, which is the most photographed place in Bruges. It reminded me a bit of “The Most Photographed Barn in America” from White Noise, but it was incredibly gorgeous, so again, justified.

    

From there, if you’re interested in getting off the beaten track and a fellow book lover, you can head to In Den Eenhoorn, which is just outside of the main part of town. I loved this walk because it felt much less touristy and a bit more like the Bruges locals see. The bookstore is huge and has books in so many different languages. We picked some up in Spanish to challenge ourselves.

There are so many cool museums, like the Torture Museum, a Dali exhibition, and the Frietmuseum which is the history of frites! After checking out some of the collections, wander a bit and take in more of the gorgeous surroundings, and if you need a break find a coffee shop to get a snack, waffle, or some tea.

Of course, you can’t forget the beer. Go to Duvelorium Grand Beer Cafe, if you have time wait for a table by the window, and enjoy your pint with a perfect view of Markt Square.

One of the chocolatiers we stopped into had a huge box (17 pieces) for a flat rate of 6.50 euros. We asked if we could fill it with less than 17 pieces, trying to exercise some form of self control, and the woman looked at us incredulously–she couldn’t begin to understand why would we ever WANT to do that. That is my kind of place.

Plan your 24 hours in Bruges well, i.e. do not take the next train but the fastest train, and you’ll leave happy you went but also feeling like you’ve seen everything you needed to see.

24 Hours in Brussels

 

I was not excited or mentally prepared for this trip. It was January 20th and since Thanksgiving, I’d either been traveling or hosting straight through, and even without those factors the weekend’s schedule was daunting. We were traveling/sleeping in buses or airports both Thursday and Saturday night, and only had accommodation booked for Friday. My outlook was more defeated exhaustion than one of energetic excitement. Add in that I had not heard the best things about Brussels, and those 30 euro return tickets started to feel like more trouble than they were worth.

But! I was so wrong! Belgium was amazing. I had heard Brussels was pretty boring but Bruges would be like a fairytale, and while the latter was correct, I loved Brussels! The international vibe, the gorgeous architecture, the super nice people, the bilingual population, and also THE FOOD. So much chocolate. So many frites. And the waffles. Man, those waffles. Brussels is a chocolate and beer lovers heaven on earth.

We only had a day to spend in this amazing city, and while knowing what I know now I wish I had planned more time there, I think we had a good itinerary for the time we had. Check out my itinerary for 24 hours in Brussels below.

First thing in the morning, head towards Grand Place. We took some pictures of the amazing square, and at this time of day the sun is out and makes the gold buildings shine in such an incredible way. It’s also central to everywhere else you’ll want to go.

From there walk just around the corner to Maison Dandoy, which is SUPER cute and delicious. It has an upstairs that feels like you’re sitting in someone’s living room, and it is a great place for your first waffle experience.

And as delicious as those waffles are, one isn’t nearly enough, but that’s perfect because it leaves room for Fritland, which is AMAZING. Man do they give you an insane amount of insanely delicious frites. Not going to lie, I ate an entire order all on my own. And it was so worth it. Fritland is again, just around the corner.

After that you can wander around the area a bit heading towards Au Bon Vieux Temps, which is the oldest bar in Brussels, open for over 300 years. On the way, check out some chocolate shops, because that chocolate is amazing. The bar really actually looked like an old bar, and you could feel the history. That said, they were playing 80s pop pretty loudly, so the ambience was a bit compromised, haha. Here we took a little break, had some delicious beer, and discussed how surprised we were with how much we like the city. Maybe our expectations were really low, but we were all really enchanted.

Then you have time to wander through Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, which was gorgeous but pretty expensive. My camera died, but the window displays were incredibly creative and artistic, well worth the trip. There is also a bookstore that I really wanted to check out, but we didn’t have time to stop in. If you like books, I’d check out both that and Muntpunt, a library and information center, as it is one of the coolest and most unique libraries I’ve been to.

From there, you’re right next to street full of restaurants, but most have people out front trying to force you inside. I don’t trust/like this method, and we ended up going to Chez Leon which didn’t have anyone peddling out front. I highly recommend it! The place looked small but was actually huge, made up of about 10 different cozy rooms connected by maze like hallways. The food was delicious and there was a wide variety of prices on the menu. We got the mussels, which were incredible. If you go, get the mussels.

If you feel like an after dinner walk, Grand Place is beautiful lit up at night, and well worth the quick stroll.

After that we headed back to our hostel, Meininger Hotel, which I also recommend. The common areas were really lively, there was a bar, a kitchen, and our rooms were comfortable and well designed (each bed had a plug and a personal light). At $25 a night in the city center, it’s  fairly priced, and they also let us hang in the common room until 4 am on our last night, even though we hadn’t booked a room. We had an early night partly because we hadn’t slept at all the night before, but also because we were waking up early the next day to go to Bruges!

Like I said, I hadn’t expected much from Brussels, and while I do think we got a great feel for the city and saw the most important parts, looking back I would have planned to stay longer. I wanted to check out the flea market and the EU Parliament. Guess it’s just another city I’ll have no choice but to return to!

Dinner at Il Treatro del Sale

Il Teatro del Sale is an all you can eat dinner followed by a show, and the kind of dining experience you’ll remember forever. You’d think it would be overflowing with tourists, but when we went we were the only non-Italians in attendance. It’s the kind of place you immediately feel at home in, almost like you’re all having dinner in someone’s (huge) living room. There are private tables and community tables and as everyone gets up to collect the next dish at the same time, it feels like one big group dinner.

It’s run by a husband and wife team, he handles the food, she handles the entertainment. Together, they make quite the pair and have turned the place into a Florentine treasure. There are hundreds of dinner options in Florence, but you can tell this one is in the heart of the city and its history.

It’s a members only club, so to attend you have to become a member. It’s 7 euros to join and around 35 for the meal. Not exactly cheap, and also the (unlimited) wine that is included is quite literally undrinkable–and this is coming from a girl who thinks Franzia and two buck chuck is surprisingly tasty. We kept checking to see if other people were drinking it, wondering if maybe it had oxidized and no one noticed, but no. It was only a small few, but some people went back for seconds. We tried to power through, if only to be polite, but it was honestly like drinking nail varnish. Suffice it to say, we did not finish our (small) glasses, and they only sell wine by the bottle. The cheapest is another 30 euros, not ideal, and not an inexpensive night.

That said, everything else was amazing. The food was delicious. Like, really, really good. And there was tons of it. I eat a lot and even I was super overwhelmed with the amount and variety in front of me. The service was excellent, though we had an amazing language barrier experience.

The way the place runs is there’s always food being served on a table that you can just go grab. While this is happening the chefs are cooking a ton of other things right from the kitchen, and when that is ready the chef yells out, in Italian, what the next course is, and you line up and wait for them to hand you a plate. Easy enough. However, this was described to us as “when the cook screams, you must go running because there is a situation in the kitchen.” After a slightly concerned second wondering exactly what situation occurring in the kitchen would cause the chef to scream, we realized what he meant. It was hilarious and sweet and so nice to not be the one making little sense in a second language for a change!

The show afterwards was my favorite part. It was two older guys, and I’ve never seen anyone love what they do so much. One of them was literally grinning and jumping around the entire time, and if I can be half as happy and content as he is, I will consider myself a success.

They serve brunch as well, and next time I’m in Florence I will definitely be back. I highly recommend this place to anyone wanting an authentic Italian experience!

48 hours in Florence

YOU GUYS. I had the most incredible Semana Santa in the history of the world. Probably. At least top 10.

Just so we have a general timeline to work with here, I left Logroño on Thursday, April 6th, spent the night in Barcelona airport once again (it went better this time). I flew out on the 7th at 6:00 am, and started a whirlwind trip around southern and eastern Europe.

Florence from April 7th to April 9th
Venice from April 9th to April 10th (too short!)
Slovenia from April 10th to April 12th
Zagreb from April 12th to April 16th
Zadar from the 16th – 17th
Split from 17th to 19th
Mostar from the 19th to the 20th
Dubrovnik from the 20th to the 22nd

Whew! It was a LOT of travel and a lot of moving around, but it was the perfect road trip itinerary and a great way to see Croatia. The only things I would change would for it to have been longer, so I could have spent more time in Venice and Mostar. Also so I could have gone to Sarajevo and Montenegro, haha. It’s never enough!

Doing Florence in 48 hours is sad, because you’ll fall in love and have to say goodbye so quickly, but totally doable. The city is very walkable, things tend to be grouped together, and in just over an hour of walking you can see the major sights.

  • I’d recommend starting at the Galleria dell’Accademia and checking out the amazing artwork and saying hello to David.
  • Then I’d head to the Duomo and see the Cathedral, climb to the top if you were smart enough to book tickets, and hang out in the plaza for a bit. Everything is so beautiful.
  • On the way to Ponte Vecchio stop at Palazzo Vecchio before windowing shopping all the gorgeous old jewelry.
  • Take a left and head to San Niccolò, a laid back and artsy neighborhood filled with great places to grab some food and have a few drinks. Even when Florence is packed around Easter holidays, you’ll still feel like you’ve escaped the tourists.
  • Make your way up to the viewpoint Piazzale Michelangelo, where you can soak in everything you’ve just seen and done. If the timing is right, you could enjoy the best sunset in town.
  • Head to Il Teatro del Sale for a unique and authentic dinner. You’ll have done all the touristy bits in the beginning of the day and end it with a view, dinner, and show that you’ll remember forever. Not a bad itinerary!

Florence was the perfect introduction to Italy, and it was the perfect time to go to Italy, considering my recent Italian news! I arrived at 8 am on no sleep, but as our (amazing, beautiful) flat wouldn’t be ready for hours, I decided to explore the city. I wandered around Ponte Vecchio (in my exhaustion it took me far too long to realize that’s where I was/it was even a bridge, haha), and looked at all the jewelry I’ll never be able to afford. I ended up at Piazza Pitti, where people were sunbathing and locals were selling artwork and crafts.

I found the perfect place to lay down and wait for Rach to arrive, and my favorite part of Florence, just by heading to the greenest bit on the map. I walked quite a ways until I got to Piazzale Michelangelo, where I was rewarded with the absolute best view of Florence. I headed down to the gorgeous Rose Garden and read my book, basking in happiness and feeling pretty astonished that I could finally call this country a little bit mine.

Rachel arrived and we settled into our flat. YOU GUYS. This flat… there are not words or pictures that do it justice. It was HUGE. And GRAND. Its front door was the biggest door I’ve ever actively used. It had a little old lift that we got slightly stuck in. The windows and shutters were dreamlike. Oh and also it had a mural painted on the ceiling, because why not. The bed was far too enticing, but seeing Rachel was just the boost of energy I needed, and we headed back across the Arno to go to Culinaria De Gustibus Bistrot. And thank god we did. Our food was amazing. We had so much of it, and they kept bringing us free extras. I cannot recommend this place enough. It was cozy, had a great ambiance, and a great place to catch up over a bottle of wine.

After an early night we decided the next day would be our tourist day. We’d hit all the major sights. Advice: book everything in advance. We didn’t and definitely should have. First we went to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see David. The line was long but there were people selling tickets to skip the line for only about 10 euros more, which seems like a scam, but is not. We decided it was worth it, especially as we had discovered we couldn’t go to the top of the Duomo at the Cathedral of Florence because they were booked for days.

I’m not going to lie, we were slightly uncultured and honestly debated if seeing David was worth it. In case you need any convincing, I am here to tell you that it is one million percent worth it. He is stunning. When I was in Amsterdam I was happy I went to the Van Gogh Museum, but none of the paintings really surprised me. I’d seen prints, they were cool to see in person but that was kind of it. David was nothing like that. He was huge. He was a masterpiece that caused awed silence and extended observation. The whole museum was worth it on its own but you guys. Don’t miss David.

From there we headed to the Cathedral and Palazzo Vecchio, which are pretty close to each other. After that it was a direct shot across the river and back to my favorite place, the neighborhood leading to Piazzale Michelangelo, San Niccolò. We grabbed a menu of the day lunch at Trattoria Cent’ori (good not great), before heading up to check out the views. We wine hopped our way back to our flat to get ready for the ultimate dining experience: Il Teatro del Sale.

We spent the next day wandering around eating, taste testing all the gelato, and checking out Palazzo Vecchio. Even though we only had a weekend there, I feel like we saw the main things, and even got out of the tourist heavy areas for more authentic experiences.

Hasta Luego, Logroño

Well, it’s been awhile, hey?

I’ve finished my year of teaching, and had originally planned to spend the summer in Logroño taking intensive Spanish lessons. Due to some unexpected family circumstances, I’m actually in the process of moving to London/in with G! But worry not, because I have quite the backlog of travels to update on, and a three week trip around Eastern Europe I’ll be leaving for in just a few short weeks. Lots of writing to do before then!

So, how about a quick wrap up of my year in Logroño? I say quick, but I have no idea where to start, really. It was one of the best years of my life, but nothing like I expected. I was expecting something a bit more like studying abroad–a huge crew of friends, drinking maybe a bit too much, feeling like a real visitor. Instead, oddly, I felt at home immediately. I don’t think my schedule or life changed much from LA to Spain. You know, other than a daily siesta.

When I first arrived, at 1 am, jet lagged, lost, overwhelmed, and desperately missing Katie, I parked at Parque Espolon and walked from the beautifully lit park to my flat just around the corner. As I saw my new home and roommates for the first time, I immediately knew it would be an easy settling in process.

touching down for the first time

first night

last morning

Logroño, I hope, will always feel like home. I know the art store next to my flat, the chocolatier a few doors down. The grocer who always gave me a discount on fruit. The bus driver who would wait that extra 30 seconds as I ran from the school right as it was meant to be leaving. Seeing the pilgrims walk the camino I used to dream about, years ago in Boston. It’s a small city, and I know the streets well. I walk them and feel capable and happy. Even Spanish, which sadly I didn’t come close to mastering, stopped being a barrier. Stopped being anything I worried about. I went to the dentist for x-rays, I got my cat a pet passport, and then went back to get it fixed when it was filled out incorrectly, twice. I got a bike fixed, went to the doctor’s a few times, finagled myself a last minute regreso, filled out all my renewal paperwork, and then amended it twice. By the end, I even made some dreaded calls–no hand gestures or facial expressions to rely on. I don’t speak Spanish. But I survived in it. And I’m going to keep taking lessons here in London.

I made friends, but not how I expected to. Other than my roommates, my American/English friends were few. But the kids I taught? They were friends. After my last day all my students found my instagram and one messaged me saying her parents wanted me to know if I ever needed anything, they would try to help. The English teacher and I had plans to meet up and speak only in Spanish. She left me with pages and pages of worksheets the students had had to translate from Spanish to English. I have to do the same. My last days at school I had dozens of letters and gifts from my kids, and it was the sweetest goodbye. Sometimes they were monsters, but I came from a tough industry and luckily a bunch of 6 year olds did not have the ability to phase me. And when I had to leave suddenly because of a family emergency, one of the families I gave private lessons to helped me sort my paperwork and another looked after my cat for almost three weeks, just happy to help. I really met the best people.

 

I’m sad to have left, but so deeply, incredibly glad to have had the time there I did. Am I done with Spain? I don’t know. I want to explore the south so badly–had I gone back next year I would have been in Granada, and that I think will always feel like the city that got away. But I have other things I need to do. Start a life, a daily life, with my incredible partner. Also probably live in Italy, and Mexico, and maybe Amsterdam? But I know this… I’ll go back to Logroño, walk the streets and remember it as home. And I am definitely not done with Spanish.

Hasta Luego, Logroño!