Bruges, a beautiful escape from the hustle and bustle of Brussels. If I had a repeat button, I would have liked to stay in Bruges and skipped the crowded noisy city altogether. Brussels has its charm. Much resembling New York, the capital city is a melting pot of culture and history. People have been wondering if I feel safe in Belgium. The answer is – it’s complicated. Brussels has been one of the few places where I diligently keep my head down and mind my own business. Could something happen to me if I were traveling alone? The level of risk seems high. Am I letting it bother me? Of course not. However, I’m glad not to be alone. My Aunt and Uncle traveled from Pennsylvania to visit! We decided on a week of day trips to pass the time. First stop Bruges.
Bruges is a traditional, medieval and UNESCO protected example of true Belgian culture. Magnificent red brick homes, cobbled streets and the smell of family-owned chocolatiers welcome adventurous tourists. The easiest way to visit Bruges without a car is by train. In my case, I traveled from Brussels Midi at 10AM and arrived in Bruges Central by 11AM. Perfect travel time for a day trip. Fill up your day with these awesome stops:
Getting around on foot in Bruges is ideal. The roads are narrow, crowded and parking can be complicated. My Aunt, Uncle and I kicked off our tour with a canal trip. Thirty minutes cruising the deep-water ways proved to be the best way of getting into the spirit of Bruges. For 8€ you can pile into a boat of about thirty other people. Once you get over sitting on someone’s lap and others in your lap – the ride is enjoyable. The captain spoke in about four different languages – French, German, English, and Spanish. It was fun trying to make sure he said the same things in all the languages!
Watch horse carriages trot by as you enjoy a hearty Leffe and a side of Flemish beef. There are many Italian places but, if you look hard enough there are little restaurants that feature local cuisine.
Put that map away! Wandering is made easy because the town is so small. Take strolls down cobbled alleys and quiet streets. You never know what you may come across.
The fact that I myself do not understand the meaning of my paintings at the time that I am painting them does not mean that they have no meaning. -Dali
The Dali museum is not quite for the faint of heart. We all know Dali for the melting watches and spindly elephants. Think precursor to Tim Burton. My brother is a fan of Dali so, I felt I needed to check it out for him. Little did I realize the extent of the man’s strangeness. I may have traumatized my Aunt and Uncle. It’s probably not a great place to take kids – the showcase is rather explicit and you may be in the awkward position of explaining scheisse related art *shudders*. I thought the museum was informative and showcases the lesser known pieces of Dali’s extensive portfolio.
You don’t have to look very far to find beer in Belguim. Be sure to sit outside and enjoy a cold one. The brands that are harder to pronounce are usually the best so give it a go! Just note that their ‘large’ beer is like an American large soda so, just know that I warned you.
Belgium does two things better than everyone else: beer and chocolate. Bruges is dense with chocolatiers who have been in the business for generations. I opted for artisan truffles but, you can choose from a wide arrange of anything chocolate or even homemade marzipan. Not my favorite – yuck.
After all the chocolate and beer it might be a good idea to try climbing the Belfort tower. 366 stairs up and down is the best work out you can ask for! The reward at the top is a view that overlooks Bruges and beyond.
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
Leaving Split was difficult. History hung at every door and I was just getting used to the labyrinth of the ancient Varos district. The sun was hot but, it cooled down at night so the windows could be kept open. The air was fresh and salty. Fishy at times, duh Split was right on the Adriatic. I was comfortable and felt safe. The food was good, the wine was better. Alas, I had to move on. Brussels, Belgium is my next destination. Tomorrow I meet up with my Aunt and Uncle who are flying out of JFK to come and see me!
I think I found my travel groove. Up until recently, I felt some anxiety about leaving my apartment. Mostly because it was tiring to be on point always and relying solely on myself. Did I lock the door? Do I have my keys? Where am I going? Shit, I’m lost. Well, I should eat! Where is my wallet? Keep my purse in front of me. I never skipped a day of adventuring but, the internal checklist was tedious. Somewhere towards the end of the Prague stay I think I finally felt I was holding my own. My stay in Split felt like a breeze!
I flew from Split to Zagreb to Amsterdam. Zagreb airport was magnificent and empty, boy, was it empty for a Friday morning.
Long travel day but, it doesn’t stop in Amsterdam. A Thayls train will take me into Midi Station in Brussels. Here are some not so glorious bits of traveling. Those minute details us travel bloggers neglect to tell you. Not only was I queasy from the Burger King Whopper that I just scarfed down but, I’m writing now simply to avoid a germophobic mental break down. This train is filthy. The seats are oily. There was a used dirty tampon at the cabin entrance. Dirty tissues litter the seat pockets. What sent me over the edge was the toenail (or fingernail IDGAF) clippings on my seat. Literal internal meltdown. Is this normal? Or am I on an exceptionally dirty train?
I got to my new apartment and threw my clothes in the washing machine. All of them. Then I jumped into the shower. All good now! Tomorrow I take on Brussels!
What’s your grossest travel experience?
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
Travertine – a lime stone deposit from mineral springs.
Situated three hours North of Split, on the Bosnia-Herzegovina border is the mesmerizing natural wonder and UNESCO protected – Plitvice Lakes National Park. Over thousands of years, deposited Travertine build-ups have formed dams which gave life to over sixteen natural lakes. The iconic turquoise water is so brilliant because the lake bottom lacks mud and contain minerals which form the Travertine. The park protects about 73,000 acres worth of untouched wilderness. A wilderness so dense that the park is home to wolves, bears, lynx, and polecats (wild ferrets).
As I was staying in Split, I actually booked a tour which worked out better in the long run. It’s about a three-hour drive north of Split. There are many options to get to Plitvice: buses, tours, car rentals. It depends on how long and how far you would like to hike.
If you go during the slow season the entrance fee is about 55 kuna or $8. Sounds great right? In peak season be prepared to dodge crowds and pay up to 180 kunas or $26. If you drive, parking is $7 per hour. Be sure to keep your ticket on you at all times and handy if you wish to take a ferry. The wooden bridges are fairly wide but, be prepared to negotiate space.
Bring water and a snack. I wouldn’t spend money in the park unless absolutely necessary. With that said, there is a bar located in the center of the park.
Swimming is STRICTLY prohibited. Just like touching stalactites in caves, skin oils and acidity can harm the natural process of Travertine forming. As tempting as it may be, keep out of the water.
Some of the deeper lakes are about 44m (144ft) but, its hard to tell because the water is so clear. The creation story of the lakes tells of villagers who experienced a terrible drought. They prayed to the Black Queen (or witch, depending on the storyteller) to help them. She sent rains and storms to fill the river beds back up. She then told them to protect the area and guard it from being destroyed. In 1949 UNESCO protected the area!
Here is my happy spot of the day! Peering over a railing you can see how the river snakes through the valley and the terraces that the Travertine forms.
There are many fish to see! The most common being Brown Trout. They float calmly in the shallows and feed on food that travels down the river.
Nearly all of the trails are bridges to take you through the complicated system of waterfalls and streams. Pay attention: there are no rails and sometimes it’s hard to see steps. Especially, hard to miss while taking in the beauty.
All in all, you don’t have to do much chasing. Rather the waterfalls chase you. Please go see Plitvice Lake National Park. Nature lover or not, the area will get your attention!
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
Make a day of hiking in Marjan Forest Park. Experience history, feeling-inducing panoramic views and quaint beaches for swimming and soaking up the rays. It’s the ultimate outdoor day trip just minutes from Split center. I asked the girl running the apartment building where I could find hiking and history fixes. She looked surprised “nobody has asked me for those recommendations, I’m usually asked about beaches and drinking”. In other words:
Day 1: The first trip into Marjan I rented a bike for a few hours. I picked my way around the peninsula stopping occasionally to peer into the tide pools. The goal was to find an octopus. The sea came up empty-handed but, I did score another Abalone shell! It’s about seven times smaller than my California Abalone but, it’s incredibly iridescent. The entire park takes a leisurely 45-50 minutes to bike so, be sure to stop at all the beaches. Each one has unique features. Don’t forget to bring a lunch.
Where I wanted to be was on the upper terraces, from one of the beaches I spotted caves? Bunkers? Whatever they were my interest was peaked. There was no chance in hell I was hauling my bike up the steep incline so, another day.
Day 2: Bound and determined to explore those caves, I started on foot back up the hill. Marjan Park is terraced so, the summit is a much higher elevation than the peninsula where the beaches are. Switchback paths lead you back down the cliffs. The dense forest at the top of the terrace was shady and offered fantastic views of both Split and nearby islands.
There were a curious amount of rock walls that lined trails and were randomly in the woods. As I grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch-land so, walls like this are appealing. I wonder, why?
Finally, I found the path to the ‘caves’. Turns out one is a 16th-century church (St. Jerome) and the other is a hermitage built into the rock face. You can imagine my frustration when I realized all of the doors were locked. Ugh.
Upon further research, the churches are rarely open and only used for special Catholic holidays. Don’t be dissuaded. These sites are spectacular and the view is even better!
Bike Rental: 60 Kuna for 6 hours = 9 USD for 6 hours
Pack a picnic!
Remember to bring water, it’s hot in the middle of the day.
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
Day 4: Today is a day for history. Stroll around old town Oslo and admire the cobbled streets.
My first video – be gentle 😉