I have had my first trip out of the Big City. As I've been talking about for about a month, Bunac organized a trip to Bruges for their annual Christmas market. Somethings I learned on the tour about it: The population of Bruges is about 100,000 people, but the weekend before Christmas, up to 600,000 people from all over the world come into town. Its a big deal. There are a million little shops that sell classic Belgium goods, such as chocolate, lace, beer and handmade gifts. Belgium has 3 official languages, and the official one in Bruges is Flemish, with some French thrown in there for good measure. If you're going to Bruges for a short time, the priorities are either to a) eat, b)drink, c)eat and drink, d) visit religious monuments or e) shop. I got to do a little of everything.
The morning started at a loverly 4:30am. I had to catch the night bus from my hostel to the International Students House to catch the bus at 6am. I get really lucky, and only have to wait about 10 minutes for a bus. I get on, and climb up to the top level, hoping it'll be quieter and I can just listen to my iPod and try not to miss my stop. Well, I get up there, and there is this guy sitting a few rows back. I watch in the window as he slowly moves up a few rows closer to me. Just as I was about to dig out my keys to gouge him if need be, he taps me on the shoulder and says 'excuse me, do you mind if I talk with you?' He looked kind of zonked, so I assumed he just wanted to stay awake. Wayyy off base. First he does a really slow scan of my body while asking where I'm from and all that. Then, he asks if I'm married. I say no, then he says, all slinky, 'Oh, so you're free then.' As every single gal should do on her own when presented with a creeper, I lied. I said I had someone back home who was meeting me in the new year over here. He bought it (barely) then launched into how he wanted to meet girls over Christmas, but not have a commitment. WTF?!!? THEN, he suddenly asks me 'Are you a Christian?' I'm like, no. This leads to a long, complex lecture about how god exists, and why, and don't I want to save my soul by accepting him? I almost slugged the guy. He finally got off, and I was pissed to see that he had made me miss my stop, so I had to walk back. That was my kick off.
Day got a lot better from there. I got to the bus stop, and recognized a few Bunacers who were also on the trip. There were 3 bus loads of us, so we got on the road quick. My tour guide was this really great lady from Toronto who was 6 months pregnant--lotta energy. We drove from London to Dover to catch the ferry. This was uneventful, other then I met the girl who I spent the day with, Elizabeth. We were waiting for the ferry to come in, and she was reading Twilight for the first time. We got to chatting, then hung out with this bunch of other Bunacers I had met at pub meets.
The White Cliffs of Dover
Around the boat to the route we would take to France.
I had slept a little on the drive, so it was easier to stay awake on the ferry. We arrived in France, and got back on our bus to drive from Calais up through Northern France, and into Belgium. Unfortunately, this is not the area that is all vineyards and rolling countryside, but looks kind of like....Idaho, or one of those middle states that start with 'I'. Michele will understand ;-)
We arrived in Bruges around 1ish. We were told to be back on the bus by 5:30 sharp so we could make a 7:45 ferry back to Dover. Then they set us loose. Elizabeth and I branched off from the main stream and went to the Ice Sculpture exhibit. This was amazing. The theme this year was Harry Potter, which I loved all on its own, but also rabbits. Have you ever seen the picture of the giant rabbit on joke sites? The one that people ask is it real or not?: Yea, this one ;-)
Well, they really exist, and are raised for food like sheep in Belgium. This was proven when we wandered over to the ice bar, and all the ice benches were covered in giant rabbit furs to sit on. So the other them was bunnies:
Harry Potter and Hedwig (the owl)
Hagrid discreetly casting a spell on the ice wall
Me with Bunnies
So we left the Sculpture exhibit, and made our way into the city center. It was pretty warm--maybe in the 50s--and everything is still very green. Bruges is known as the Venice of the North for its canal system, which was beautiful.
We walked into the area around the center of town, and did a little shopping. I went into a lace shop and got a few gifts (which I'm DYING to write about, but I don't want the people getting them to know ;-) ) then we went into this one chocolate shop. The family had been making chocolates for 130 years: They were amazing. I sampled, then got some to send home. We took our time walking around, and watched this one woman making lace. She was so fast, it was really interesting. We met up with some of the people from Bunac, and went to this pub that served 350 types of beer. I got strawberry for 2.50 euro. It was 3.5% proof, and my new favorite EVER:
We swung into the market, but honestly, it was really a bunch of cheap stuff. The real finds were in the shops that had been around for hundreds of years (no big surprise) By the end of the night, there was time to grab a bratwurst, and a Belgian waffle (with caramel and bananas...*Drools a little at the memeory*) and we had to high tale it to the bus. Got there with 10 minutes to spare, but we ended up sitting there for a while because two stupid girls got lost, and were getting a ride back from some locals. They finally called and said they were just going to get the Eurostar back, and we headed for the ferry. We ended up missing the 7:45, but luckily got the 9pm...it all felt very familiar ;-) The rest of the ride was uneventful, and I got back to the hostel at 1am...just in time to get 5 hours of sleep before work.
It was a really great little get away, and has inspired me to look into other trips--tho if I go out of country again, I will definitely be making it an overnight trip. My next ideas are Edinburgh, Oxford, The New Forest, Nottingham, and the Lake District to stay on a horse farm where you just ride your horse for 3 days. Thats my first choice. Any other ideas?