Episode 349 – New Friends, Old Places: Our Cruise Itinerary & Bruges


Today is the first “real” day of this European sojourn.

Ted took this photo of our hotel on his way out for dinner. The rainy sky really enhances the lighting on the front of the building.

Were spending our first three days at the Dukes Palace Hotel, Bruges’ only 5-star hotel, located in a 15th century building that was once …wait for it… a Burgundian Duke’s palace! DukesPalace Sadly, with all our pre-arranged escorted tours, I doubt we’ll have time to make use of all the amenities, which include a sauna, steam room, UV and infrared cabins, salt wall, gym, hammam (Turkish bath), and massages. We will enjoy their famous breakfasts though; those breakfasts feature Belgian chocolate!

We’re in a lovely room with two big closets (the right hand one has a PANT PRESS in it!), a large modern bathroom with heated floor, and big windows overlooking the city. We hear the carillon from the old town hall (lower photo below) every quarter hour.

The misty morning view from our window at breakfast time.
Bruges just waking up.

And now …. food pictures!

Missing from this collage: the entire table of fresh breakfast pastries surrounding the fruit tower, and the large silver salvers of eggs, bacon, and sausages.
Of course breakfast involved a dessert course! Belgian waffles, slabs of Belgian chocolate from which to cut as much as you’d like, and champagne!

The entire hotel maintains the elegance of a ducal palace, including sweeping staircases, chandeliers, beautiful paintings, opulent upholstery, and tapestries.

The last time we did the Grand European itinerary, it was for our 35th anniversary year, and we did it in July. This time we’ll be experiencing autumn along the rivers, and doing it (once we reach Amsterdam) with new friends made on the World Cruise: Al and Karin from North Carolina.

The four of us in front of the Spanish Pavilion (built for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition) in Seville, Spain, back in March.

We (I) kind of talked them into doing this cruise, as a break in a very hectic and stressful schedule for them, so there’s a teensy bit of pressure on us (me) to ensure they enjoy it. We won’t be doing everything together, but we will be experiencing the Prague extension mostly as a foursome.

Most of the excursions Ted and I signed up for, including those on the fully escorted pre- and post-cruise extensions, are Viking’s “included” (i.e. no additional cost) experiences, since this is a familiar itinerary in familiar cities, and we may want to simply wander off on our own. The exception is Rothenburg ob der Tauber, on the famous Romantic Road, which is a Viking offering but at an extra cost (the included excursion that day was one we’d done in 2013 and, while quite wonderful, it couldn’t compete with what I’d read about Rothenburg).

The two excursions marked with ** are private tours arranged through Tours By Locals, for specific experiences we wanted during our land extensions that were not offered by Viking. Flanders will be somewhat duplicated, but we wanted a Canadian perspective, which is often not possible when 98% of the passengers are from the U.S.

Kutna Hora at the end of our trip will be a full day outing with Karin and Al.

So off we go today on our first two tours. This morning is about architectural beauty and local history; this afternoon (a separate post) will be about war. It’s slated to rain all day, with a constant temperature of 10°C/50°F, which is the weather forecast for our entire stay in Bruges (really, pretty much for the entirety of the month in this region), so Ted may opt to take some photos on his phone to keep his camera from getting wet. I have no doubt they’ll be great either way.

It turns out we’re the only 2 passengers from the Viking Magni here for this extension, so our morning tour with our excellent guide Roland Vanbosseghem is the equivalent of a private one.

We began with our own hotel’s history, which reflects much of the political and social climate in Bruges. The city was an important centre of commerce, for its port, its cloth weaving, and its finance. It was ruled mostly by the French monarchy – hence the Burgundian Duke, a title given to the second son of the French king. At various times the Hapsburgs, Venetians, and Napoleon all took their turn too.

In the 12th to 15th centuries, Bruges was at its peak, a Hanseatic city housing all the major trade guilds as well as many of the the Medici banking interests, and serving as a port of trade for goods from all over the Mediterannean and east, as well as its own famous broadcloth, linens, and leather. The city’s fortunes declined with the advent of machine-made cloth, and the silting of its deep water harbour, but its glorious architecture has lasted.

This rather plain building, now home in its upper stories to VBRO, Bruges Radio, houses on its lower level the city’s oldest pub. THIS is where traders from all over the world came to sell their cargos, make deals, and set prices for their goods. When transporting items back and forth from their ships in the harbour to their “office” in the pub, someone came up with the idea of writing out the description of their stock and using that to negotiate a price. Hence…. a “stock exchange” . The world’s first, created in the 13th century, long before the more modern version credited to Amsterdam in 1611.

Many of the buildings in the city still display their guild symbols – and since the entire old city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, those buildings are beautifully maintained.

The images carved into the window arches identify this building as the Tailors’ guild hall.

Bruges also hosted the embassy buildings of all the big trading nations: Venice, Florence, Basques, Germany, France, Spain, etc. Those buildings have been repurposed, but their heritage maintained.

The building on the far right in the second photo, with the straight crenellated roof, was the German embassy.
Left: the Toll House. Right: the slender building with the stained glass was the home of the actual tax/toll collector.
Just some of the “typical” ornate brickwork and sculpture adorning wealthy homes.

We also spent time in two of the city’s most beautiful squares.

The first was the Market Square, home to the Belfry of Bruges (the former municipal treasury and archives) and the civic buildings and post office which looked gothic but were actually built in the 1920’s to replace buildings destroyed by Napoleon during his “redesign” plans for Bruges.

Left: the belfry seen from the square. Right: inside the courtyard looking at the back of the belfry.
We’d have believed these were authentic Gothic buildings if our guide hadn’t explained them. We really enjoy our guided tours!
The other two sides of Market Square

The second square housed the city hall, historic civilian court, historic criminal court, and the entrance to the Basilica of the Holy Blood.

From top: (1) provincial court, and historic civil court. The gold figures on the court are Justice, Moses holding the 10 commandments, and the Virtues. (2) the courthouse (left) beside City Hall (3) the ornate entrance to the Chapel of the Holy Blood (Left) and the small red-doored criminal court.

There was a mass taking place in the basilica, so we could not go in to see the relic itself – a piece of fabric stained with 1st century blood, supposedly collected by Joseph of Arimethea (who was responsible for Jesus’ burial) – that was brought to Bruges after the First Crusade. We were, however, able to go into the 11th and 12th century Romanesque lower chapel dedicated to St. Basil.

The 12th century chapel.
The rooms of the 11th century chapel, in which a parishioner was meditating (top right). Note the 11th century frieze top left, in which the person doing the baptism has two right hands. Whether that was significant or lack of skill is not known.

Trade and finance – and taxation of goods – made people wealthy. Our guide had to keep reminding me that the large and ornate gothic and renaissance buildings were not churches, but simply the homes of the wealthy. “City palaces.”

One of the largest city palaces in Bruges belonged to the Gruuthuse family who had a monopoly on the sale of ‘gruut’, an herb mixture which was the main raw material for beer, and later rights to tax hops and also the finished beer product. At a time when water was not potable, and everyone, including children, drank beer, the man who taxed beer was not only incredibly rich, but soundly hated. In fact, he had a passage built from his house directly into the largest church in the city, to avoid being out in public where he might be attacked. From his private chapel, he could be visited by the priest and not have to mingle with the citizenry. However, even he had to join in the annual Procession of the Holy Blood during the celebration of Christ’s Assumption, and during one of those processions he was indeed assassinated, as he’d feared.

Left: the Gruuthuse “home”. Right: the fortified tower of the Church of Our Lady. The connection from the house to the church is just behind the modern black structure.

Since it was raining, we opted to substitute a quick tour of the magnificent Church of Our Lady for a wet canal ride. We felt we’d seen much of what lined the canal anyway.

The statue of famous Flemish “primitive” (think “premiere”) artist Jan Van Eyck, backed by a section of the Rei canal.

The church is famous for having Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges sculpture. The sculpture has been stolen from the church twice: once by Napoleon, and again by the Nazis. It was most recently returned in 1945 by The Monuments Men. While the sculpture is very beautiful, the church has much, much more to offer. By the end of our tour Ted and I decided we need to come back, not only to the church, but to Bruges.

Michelangelo’s sculpture is notable for the pensive expression on Mary’s face.

(1) the bright airy church interior (2) the ornate oak confessionals, carved by Jacob Berger and Ludo Hagheman in 1697 are unique in that the carvings are hollow, which helps to prevent the wood from cracking with age. (3) painted graves, very reminiscent of Egyptian sarcophagi (4) Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, oil on panel by Adriaen Isenbrandt, 1528-1535 x Bruges

Bruges is where the Order of the Golden Fleece was created!

The main altar of Our Lady.

An outdoor plague chapel (note the rat/cat faces). During times of plague offerings of both petition and thanks were left here.

What a gorgeous city, of which we’ve only just gotten a tantalizing taste.


  1. Unreal the sights in and around Bruges, but I’ll second what one poster said above, Rose, OMG, that Belgian chocolate — and for breakfast! — and that chocolate syrup for the pancakes, I’m salivating all over my laptop screen! I know some people I travel with get annoyed with me taking photos of the food we eat, but we just do not (or is it cannot?!) eat like that normally, so I truly enjoy the amazingly edible photos you (and Ted) provide. Okay, the scenery isn’t too shabby either. Hope for better weather window opens up for you and Ted on your journey. Thank you again for your wonderful narration.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rose, I’ve been following you and Ted since your WC and love how your blog makes me feel as if I’m almost there with you thanks to your detailed writing and Ted’s excellent photos! Now, if I could only taste that Belgian Chocolate! It’s my favorite!
    Also, I love how you connected with Al and Karin on the WC and are traveling again with them. We connected with a couple on our first Viking cruise in 2017 (GE of course) and have taken several trips with them since!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ROSE:

    Your hotel in Bruge sounds fabulous. Too bad about the rain. We were in Bruges once during our Amsterdam to Antwerp cruise and went back after the cruise. Loved it. It was rainy and blustery during the cruise excursion, but we had beautiful weather when we went back for a couple of days.

    No worry about making sure we enjoy the Grand European cruise. Seeing you guys again will make it all worthwhile!


    Sent from my iPhone



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