Tulips greating me in Bruges!

Things couldn’t have worked out better for Bruges – we arrived in peak tulip season, when that area of the country and neighboring Holland have gorgeous tulips in bloom everywhere and there was a carnival that was visiting. Like I said- perfect timing. We stayed at this hotel that had a toilet (literally a water closet) upstairs and a shower closet downstairs and the bedroom we were staying in on the middle floor. Unique setup indeed. We went to the carnival haunted house, where we rode with the Haunted House owner’s daughter, who chatted away to us in French. Then we walked around the city for a while. It was all cobblestone streets and Dutch gables and I wanted to take pictures of everything! Biking is really popular in Bruges- it seemed like everyone was biking somewhere. We had this really helpful backpacker’s guide to Bruges and decided to hit up the suggestions it listed for renting bikes the following day.

Pretty little Bruges

            We got up early in search of a cappuccino, which proved somewhat difficult to find, especially since nothing really opened until about 9 or 10. However, on a magical stroke of luck, Maura and I stumbled upon a consumer dream: A Belgian Target/Ikea. Glorious! And it had a café- a cheap café inside. Excellent indeed. We spent a while wandering around in there and made plans for a return trip the following day. Then it was off to rent bikes. Looking at the different routes we could take, I got it in my head that we should bike ride to Holland. It was about 20 kilometers to Sulis, a little town just on the other side of the border between the Netherlands and Belgium. Map in hand, we hoped on the bike path that hugged the canal and rode our rented bikes to Holland. After a brief stop for lunch, which included an order of Belgian fries, (I should mention that I was most fond of the food culture in Belgium. However, I do not ever seeing living in Belgium as a viable option- I think I would grow rather large), we biked on back to tour a Belgian brewery!

Bike riding to Holland...

...where there are lots of windmills!

            The brewery was the only one remaining of the 53 that Bruges had originally housed and was very informative- Maura and I enjoyed our free beers and decided to bring some home for our loving fathers. Some more souvenir and window shopping followed the brewery tour, with a special stop at a chocolatier recommended by, you guessed it- Rick Steves!  Then we headed to an internet café to figure out our travel plans to London.

            Travel plans to London… ah, it seemed so simple. Guess what it wasn’t. Maura and I looked up all possibilities to get cheaply from Europe to the UK, but could find none. We considered going home a few days early, but getting to Ireland was not a plausible option either. Maura and I engineered a plan. We went to the train station to make reservations on the Eurostar- the train from Brussels to London, tickets on which ran about 210 euro a pop. I told the ticket man that I had a Eurorail pass and may have lied and said that it was a global pass (which it wasn’t), the only kind of pass that could take us to London. Maura and I planned to ‘sleep’ the whole train ride with the passes and reservations carefully laid out in front of us. If a conductor were to pass, hopefully he or she wouldn’t inspect them too closely.

            Nonetheless, we were little bundles of nerves- I had these awful visions of us being thrown in Eurorail jail and never making it back to Ireland, let alone America. We must have had the God of Vagabond Travelers looking out for us though because Maura and I made it through ticket check, border control and security before boarding the train without even a weary glance cast in our direction. Operation fake sleep went into effect immediately (I donned sunglasses to enhance the appearance, despite the fact that 75% of the train ride was through a tunnel that ran under the English Channel). I may have increased my worry lines, taking years off of my face that I will never get back, but I made it to London, slightly illegitimately, without spending 210 more Euro. Life was good.

How we planned on getting to London...